Fraud probe into Harpenden school places
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Fears that fraudulent addresses may have been used to secure some children places at Harpenden’s oversubscribed secondary schools have prompted an urgent call for an investigation.
Harpenden Parents Group has formally asked Herts county council to carry out address checks for all successful eldest children applications to both Sir John Lawes and Roundwood Park.
This follows complaints from some local parents upset after their children failed to be allocated any of their preferred schools.
Chairman Ben Bardsley said the council’s admissions department has recently agreed to carry out “full and comprehensive address checks” and has advised the group it will write to parents whose children received a school place.
He added: “The checks should identify any fraudulent addresses used in applications. St George’s School is its own admissions authority, but we hope they will be equally sensitive to this issue.”
Ben went on: “In 2011 a similar request for address checks for primary school allocations resulted in the uncovering of fraudulent applications when incorrect addresses had been used, and school places thus being withdrawn.
“Every fraudulent application uncovered saves at least one child and one family from the stress and uncertainty of the appeals and continuing interest process.”
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Figures obtained by another local group, Right School Right Place (RSRP), show that in the Harpenden schools planning area, which includes villages and settlements in a wide area around the location as well as the town itself, close to 90 applicants received a non-ranked allocation.
This includes almost six per cent of Harpenden town residents – compared to less than one per cent last year.
Harpenden town is the source of about 60 per cent of pupils in the planning area looking for places at the three local secondary schools, with the remainder from outside the town.
A spokeswoman for RSRP said the largest group of Harpenden town pupils who did not gain a preferred place was from The Grove Junior School, drawing primarily from Southdown and other areas in the southern part of the town and furthest from existing secondary provision.
Rural and village locations covered by the planning area saw the highest proportion of pupils failing to secure a preferred choice – including 40 per cent in Markyate.
The spokeswoman noted that Wheathampstead pupils, who benefitted this year from interim additional places at Sandringham School in St Albans, still had 17 per cent of applicants receiving a non-ranked allocation compared to 20 per cent last year.
A spokesman for the council said: “We take address fraud very seriously. The council undertakes address checks of selected schools every year for each transfer process.
“If an application is investigated and found to be fraudulent, then the offer of a place is withdrawn.”
He added: “We would strongly encourage anyone who knows of anyone who has applied for a school place on these grounds to notify the admissions team, anonymously if preferred, as soon as possible.”