Paragraph 2.21 of the school admissions report to the city council’s education, children and families committee, makes for interesting, if not alarming, reading. In essence, the council appears to suggest that it is a good idea to reconsider the placing request system and simplify it by practically, in my view, removing any parental choice.
It is astonishing to read that in the council’s view, as expressed in the report: “The most fundamental question is whether parental choice is a practical reality given smaller class sizes and rising birth rate.”
However, one could point out that the rising birth rate is something that the council should have planned for and even anticipated given the amount of statistical data available. A proper plan should have been in place to mitigate as best as possible the effects. Clearly, smaller class sizes have been introduced by legislation some time ago and this was not a surprise either.
So, maybe the most fundamental question could be: why has there not been an effective strategy and action plan in place, ahead of time, to prepare for this rise in demand for primary school places?
In my view, what should definitely not be in any question is if a degree of parental choice should be a practical reality or not. It should always be.
In any case, what at the moment is “parental choice” revolves around the premise that your children can go to a local school where you live.
If a parent wishes for their children to go to a different school then this process is regulated by the out-of-catchment applications rules and procedures. In my view, the “clarity” and “simplicity” of a system that will allow the council to easily refuse an in-catchment place to a parent, using a potential ruling that a given number of allocations has already been reached, will only make the council’s job much easier and hassle free. It will not improve the overall process or make the parent’s life any easier. For example, it could possibly create, at the very least, a stampede amongst parents, in what it will seem will be a kind of first-come first-served system. If you are late, for any reason and someone – in such a system – will have to be last, then there could be no local place for you.
At least, I think, it is reassuring that such changes are not possible to be introduced by the council alone without proper consultation and legislation. I think the best way forward is better and more effective planning ahead, anticipating any issues as early and as much as possible. Legislative changes are usually tools for long-term change targeting the enhancement of the decision-making process and they should not be used for the curtailment of the little influence that parents have in them.
Dr Antonis Giannopoulos is chair of Bruntsfield Parent Council