FEW issues arouse more passion than school placement policy across the city.
There is not a parent in the Capital who does not want to do the best for their children and that they are found a place in the school of their choice.
The council’s placement policy gives priority to children in the school catchment area of their locality. But some schools are more popular than others. Spaces when available can be taken up by parents outside the catchment area.
Here the council has run into trouble. It is now adopting a policy of keeping P1 spaces free throughout the year in case a catchment pupil moves into the area.
Previously, places not filled by the start of term were offered to youngsters on waiting lists. That surely made sense. But the new policy means that out-of-catchment children now miss out.
It’s a big issue in Edinburgh where the most popular schools are oversubscribed.
Parents are demanding that the council scraps the policy which came into force last month and have lodged a petition against the scheme. They accuse the education department of trying to “stamp out” their ability to choose where children are enrolled.
This is a tough call for the council. It’s hanged if it keeps spaces free for incoming pupils – and hanged if it doesn’t.
It is under pressure to meet class size targets. But denying a child a place on the off chance that someone will move in cannot but infuriate those on the waiting list - particularly if they already have a sibling at the school.
Demographic pressures are adding to the dilemma, with predictions that primary school rolls will rise by more than 13 per cent to nearly 32,000 over the next five years. The council has even organised information campaigns making clear that younger siblings are highly unlikely to be offered non-catchment places.
It’s not hard to see why parents are angered.
The long-term solution is as it has always been – to drive up standards across the board so that parents are happy to send their children to their catchment school rather than scramble for places elsewhere. This becomes all the more imperative given the importance attached to ensuring our children get the best possible start in life.