by John Whitehouse on 15 December, 2013
As the Lib Dem lead member for Children & Schools on the County Council, for some time now I have been supporting the “Siblings at the Same School” group (https://www.facebook.com/LeamingtonSiblingsAtTheSameSchoolActionGroup) in their fight to get Warwickshire County Council to adopt a better schools admissions policy, one which would help to address the real difficulties faced by parents where siblings are unable to attend the same primary school due to oversubscribed Reception classes.
In September we thought we had won the argument. WCC put out a press release (http://news.warwickshire.gov.uk/blog/2013/09/11/new-school-admissions-proposals-could-improve-parental-choice/) saying that it would consult on changes to its school admissions policy for 2015/16, on the basis of bringing in “Super Priority Areas” for schools in the larger urban areas of the county, where there were more than five schools within a 2 mile radius and where demand for school places was high. This seemed to me a sensible and targeted approach.
The intent to consult on this basis was confirmed by the WCC Cabinet Member (Cllr Heather Timms) at a Childrens & Young People Scrutiny Committee in November.
However, suddenly Cllr Timms and WCC officers got cold feet, and a report was issued for the Cabinet meeting last Thursday (http://goo.gl/o0FOjZ) which kicked the whole idea of Super Priority Areas into the long grass of 2016/17 or beyond. I was furious, especially as the report offered no explanation for doing so, or any apology for the proposed U-turn.
In normal circumstances I would have exercised my right to “call in” the Cabinet decision for a further detailed review by the Scrutiny Committee – it’s certainly what it deserved! However, if I’d done so it would have delayed any consultation for changes to 2015/16 admissions policy beyond the statutory deadline, which would have meant no changes could have been made for 2015/16 anyway.
Thankfully, a week of sustained pressure by myself and the Siblings at the Same School group forced a further U-turn by Cllr Timms and officers, with the result that the Cabinet agreed to add into the 2015/16 consultation “the option of using wider catchment areas for community and voluntary controlled schools in Warwick and adjoining areas”.
It was also agreed that both myself and the Labour chair of Scrutiny would be involved in the detailed definition of what “wider catchment areas” and “Warwick and adjoining areas” will mean in practice. We will be meeting to determine this within the next week, ahead of the consultation starting on 6th January.
In the circumstances I believe this was the best outcome that could have been achieved, and represented a partial victory. At the next scrutiny meeting in January, I have no doubt we shall be delving in great detail to find out why these policy U-turns happened along the way!
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