Parents’ anger at St Albans’ Prae Wood School places fiasco

PUBLISHED: 06:35 26 October 2012

FURIOUS parents have accused the county council of blighting the lives of their children by their actions in allowing extra places to be offered at their local primary school for the past two years.

Prae Wood JMI School in King Harry Lane, St Albans, admitted two forms of entry – 60 children instead of the usual 30 – in 2011 and 2012 to help overcome the problem of a shortfall in primary places in the city.

But with the school due to return to the usual one form of entry next summer, there will be at best just a few places for local children who do not have siblings at Prae Wood – and even brothers and sisters might not get a place.

Many parents face having to try and get their children into schools well away from the Prae Wood catchment area and even having siblings at different schools.

The situation has been exacerbated by the opening of the new King Harry Park estate on the former St Albans School playing fields. Earlier this year St Albans district council agreed to reduce the number of homes there which had to be limited to over-55s, putting increased pressure on Prae Wood places from new families moving in.

Parents have questioned how the county council failed to recognise that increasing the number of children at the school for two years would have a knock-on sibling effect, particularly with a new estate being built on the doorstep.

They have also been highly critical of the use of GP birth data to predict the required number of reception places because so many families migrate into St Albans from London and are not picked up by statistics until they apply to school.

Parents have raised numerous issues over the problem including accountability and whose decision it was to pursue a double intake of children and then return to a single intake.

They are also questioning why a large housing estate was permitted near a school facing huge pressure on places and how can they be expected to get siblings to different schools – even if are any places available in the next nearest.

Mother of two Emma Beaton, who could find herself with children at different schools, hit out at the county council for applying, a “short term fix solution to a long term problem” by temporarily increasing intake at local schools with no regard to the impact on local communities or future applicants.

She went on: “The stress that this will put us under as a family under does not bear thinking about. Surely the council at the very least have a moral obligation to make provision for siblings to attend the same school? And surely it is not unreasonable for families to expect their children to be able to attend their local school?”

Catherine and Andrew Gelhard called for someone to hold their hands up, “to this mess, apologise for the distress it is causing and find an appropriate solution fast.”

And Frances Carter, of Jerome Drive, called for an end to “sticking plaster solutions” to the shortage of school places in St Albans by opting for temporary increases in admission numbers. Another parent Isaac Gow said that even if the entry figure at Prae Wood was increased to 45 next year, there would still be only nine places available for local families and they would probably all be swallowed up by people moving into the King Harry Park development.

A Herts county council spokesperson said: “There has been an increasing demand for school places in St Albans over the past five years and Prae Wood School has formed part of the school expansion programme formulated to meet this. The school provided 30 additional places in 2011/12 and 2012/13 on a temporary basis. The residential development adjacent to the school has increased pressure for school places in this area of the city.

“The school is working with us to consider whether or not further additional places should be made available for September 2013 to manage demand in this locality.”

He added: “As options are still being considered, no decision has yet been taken. Parents will be able to find up to date information regarding the proposed intake on www.hertsdirect.org using the interactive version of the admissions booklet.”

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