Harpenden parents launch petition over school places

HARPENDEN parents concerned about school allocations after nearly 30 per cent of their eldest children failed to get one of their three ranked primary schools have launched a petition to force action on the issue.

At the time of going to press, more than 160 people had signed the petition on the Herts County Council’s website, aimed at finding a solution to, “bring community schooling and parental choice back to Harpenden for September 2011 and future years.”

Parents have banded together to form the Harpenden Schools Allocations Group, which is collecting signatures on the council’s website until June 30.

In it, the action group said the allocation process was fragmenting the community and that the council has not carried out “robust checks” to ascertain whether those given places actually lived in Harpenden.

The petition said: “Significant areas of central Harpenden provide no hope of community schooling for the families who live there. Twenty-eight per cent of eldest children applying for a primary school place in 2011 did not get allocated one of their three ranked schools on allocation day.”

The action group said that many nursery school applicants did not get the places they wanted and that the,“under-supply of school places appears to be set to continue for three years or more. This is the second year of significant and growing problems.”

It claims that council’s reaction has been to introduce emergency solutions based on minimum cost options that “are not sustainable and are fragmenting local communities.”

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The group added: “The lack of geographical measure to the sibling rule and no robust checks on residency means that places are being given to people who are not part of the local community, to the exclusion of real residents.

“An unprecedentedly large number of directly affected parents and those with nursery age children, together with concerned community members wish to engage with HCC [council] to find a sustainable solution.”

A member of the group, David Sparrow of Harpenden, said: “We are concerned about the effect of the planning process adopted by HCC. It’s a serious issue for the whole of Harpenden and we are working with councillors and the council to find a solution for this September and subsequent years.” He said that in addition to the online petition, a paper version had also collected hundreds of signatures.

County councillor for Harpenden south west, Teresa Heritage, who is on the council’s education and skills cabinet panel, said that she and portfolio holder for education, Cllr Frances Button, and county councillor for Harpenden north east, Bernard Lloyd, met Harpenden parents on Tuesday to discuss the issue.

She said: “We are listening and we want to work with them. I welcome the interest that parents are showing towards the current problems with school places in Harpenden.

“The last few years has seen a ‘bulge’ in the number of children who wish to enter community schools and nurseries.

“I worked successfully with officers and residents a few years ago to ensure sufficient secondary school places and I am committed to working in a similar manner now.

“Indeed it was this work that helped the county to decide to move to a straight line rule for measuring distance to schools.”

Cllr Heritage added: “I can assure residents that Bernard Lloyd and I are constantly seeking to engage with officers to get the best deal for Harpenden families.