Boy denied Harpenden school place 300m from dad’s home

Roundwood Park school

Roundwood Park school - Credit: Archant

A Harpenden father has described his shock that despite living just 300 metres from Roundwood Park School, his son has been offered a place at a poorly rated school 10 miles away in Hemel Hempstead.

Complaints about secondary allocations have poured in to the Herts Advertiser from angry parents.

And dad Tim Firmin has outlined his concern about Herts county council’s “unfair and discriminatory schools application process for divorced fathers who share equal custody of children”.

He said: “On the initial online application as [my son’s] father I am invisible.

“The process stated that we had to use his mother’s address which is totally and utterly biased and prejudiced.”

His son lives with him in Harpenden for most of the school week. Tim has lived in the Roundwood area most of his life and he and his four siblings were schooled there.

Tim said: “I moved the family to just over 300 metres from the school gates two years ago - at great expense.

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“My ex-wife applied for Roundwood as our number one choice as it is also the nearest school to her home in Flamstead.”

He went on: “It was with utter shock we were offered Astley Cooper in Hemel Hempstead, a school some 10 miles away from my home.”

An Ofsted report last year gave the school a poor rating, and said it required improvement as it was “not good”.

Tim said the allocation had caused “considerable stress” for the whole family.

He went on: “This seems to be prejudiced against families who reside at two addresses but work together amicably with the best interest of their son.”

Tim said there was nowhere in the application process to explain those circumstances until the “very distressing and upsetting appeal stage”.

A council spokesman said the address of the parent who received child benefit was taken as the child’s permanent residence.

He urged the boy’s parents to visit Astley Cooper “before dismissing the offered place”.

But their son would automatically be placed on the continuing interest list for his preferred schools.

Thomas Parrott, vice-chairman of Harpenden Parents Group, warned that the shortfall in places allocated in town had become worse: “This year the issue is no longer one only suffered by parents from Southdown, Flamstead, Redbourn and Wheathampstead.

“We have been contacted by parents much closer to the centre of Harpenden on roads off Crabtree Lane. This is a significant development which proves the demand for places has been increasing inside the centre of town, and reducing the area of allocation.”

The council spokesman said: “Children in Harpenden who have not been offered a school of their preference have been offered a place at the next nearest school – Townsend. This school has recently been judged as ‘good’ by Ofsted.”

He added: “All schools in the Harpenden and St Albans area are either academies or voluntary-aided and as such are responsible for their own admissions, including setting the published admission number for the school.

“In recent years we have worked with schools in Harpenden to increase the number of places available, but each has advised they cannot offer any further additional places for this September.

“Sandringham School has been expanded by 30 places and 14 additional places have also been offered at St Alban’s Girls’ School, which has increased capacity across the area as a whole for this year.”

The spokesman went on: “An announcement from the Department for Education on Monday (9) confirmed that the bid by the Harpenden Secondary School Trust to open a new school in Harpenden has moved to the next stage of the free school process. This is a positive step forward for the trust in establishing a new school to serve the local area.

“We understand that this is a difficult time for parents and appreciate some may be disappointed with the school their child has been allocated. Where parents have been allocated a school outside their preferences, we encourage them to visit the school and speak to the head teacher before dismissing the offered place.

“All parents have been supplied with information about what to do next including what to do if they are not happy with the place that they have been offered. Applicants who have not been offered their first preference school will automatically be placed on the continuing interest list for any schools named higher on their application form than the school offered.”