The End of Catchment Areas For Ealing's Primaries?

Council considers scrapping out of date admissions system for schools

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Rules designed to make the school admissions system ‘fairer’ are being broken by half of state schools according to the chief adjudicator. The worst culprits are faith schools where Sir Philip Hunter claims there has been ‘widespread’ failure to follow new rules.

The findings are part of a national inquiry which will be presented to the Government next month and come in the same week as news that Ealing Council is considering plans to scrap catchment areas for its primary schools.

Following Government advice to local education authorities asking them to consider whether catchment areas are ‘outdated’, the plans would have the greatest impact on schools that are most heavily oversubscribed and on families that more often than not paid a premium for houses in their catchment areas.

However, competition for places at the most popular schools has become so fierce that simply living within the catchment area is often not enough to secure an offer.

A council spokesman said, "Ealing Council will be consulting residents about changing the admissions policy for primary schools.

"Many catchments are out of date and some families may live very close to a school but because of the way the catchment is drawn they may be unable to gain a place at their nearest school."

Commenting on the possible changes, Charles Morris Head Teacher of Southfield Primary told, "Any measure that would afford families the opportunity to have their children educated at the same school has my support. One of the unfortunate consequences of Southfield’s improving reputation is that families with long-standing links to our school can not secure places for younger siblings.

"This, I think, is contrary to the very basis of a community school. Furthermore, it can create situations in which parents and carers are scurrying about at the end of the day collecting children from different schools. This is not conducive to child safety nor does it allow a family to develop a real stake in their local school of choice.

"I understand the argument that some pupils who live locally might have to travel to get to school but the catchment area system does not entirely prevent this from happening now. Southfield’s catchment area mainly lies south of our school site. Therefore, families who live quite close, but slightly north of the school and who have older siblings already enrolled are unable to secure places."

If catchment areas were done away with, preference would go to siblings of existing pupils. For those without siblings, the distance a family lives from their preferred primary school would be rated as one of the least important factors when it came to offering places.

In a bid to make their admissions system less open to abuse, the governing body of voluntary aided school St Mary’s RC Primary on Duke Road has introduced a lottery system for its 2009 reception entry. Proximity to the school is no longer an admissions criterion for children without siblings.

October 16, 2008