Harpenden’s St George’s School changes admissions policy
A TOP secondary school has taken a decision to redistribute places which have traditionally gone outside Harpenden to children in the town.
From next year’s entry, the criteria reserving 10 per cent of non-sibling places for children from outside Harpenden and the surrounding villages at St George’s School in Sun Lane has been removed.
It means that families living in St Albans, Welwyn Garden City and Bedfordshire will have a greatly reduced chance of obtaining a place unless they are siblings of current students or board at the school.
Analysis carried out by admissions officer Alison Brown and deputy head Paddy Storrie suggests that families on the edge of town, especially in Southdown, the east fringe of Batford, North Harpenden and towards West Common will have a greater chance of getting a place at the over-subscribed St George’s.
The change will not affect the proportion of non-sibling places for children in Wheathampstead, Redbourn, Kimpton, Markyate and Flamstead which will remain the same.
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Headmaster Norman Hoare emphasised that brothers and sisters of pupils currently coming in from further areas would continue to qualify for places under the sibling rule.
But over time as families from, for instance St Albans and Luton, moved through and left the school, more spaces would be released for Harpenden children.
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Mr Storrie explained that this year it could be eight to 10 more children living within walking distance from the school but analysis had shown that within four to five years, that could rise to 15 to 20 Harpenden families benefiting from the change to the admissions criteria.
The governors made the change in consultation with the county council as the education authority and after considering various ways to help the increased pressure which all three of Harpenden’s over-subscribed secondary schools were feeling.
Information about the changes has been sent to communities and churches from outside Harpenden and the villages which would previously have qualified for a place under the 10 per cent rule.
Mr Hoare said: ‘It does mean that we are losing the links with Christian families in communities further afield and we regret this.
“Over the years families from Luton and St Albans have come from church communities and have been wonderful supporters of the school – last year’s school captain was from a well-known church family in St Albans and we mustn’t forget that as a faith school that is our role.
“But we must emphasise that we are not changing the key criteria for admission – active membership of a church as supported and testified by a minister or recognised church leader of a recognised Christian denomination is a major determinant of entry, as is the sibling connection, closely followed by distance from the school gate. Nor will we change the number of boarders the school takes.”
Mr Hoare added: “Being a co-educational maintained boarding school with a religious character is fundamental to our existence and enriches the St George’s experience for staff, pupils and families. We remain proudly all-ability in our intake.
“Nothing else will change, especially not our insistence on Sunday chapel attendance for pupils throughout the term.”
St George’s decision has been welcomed by Wheathampstead secondary education campaigner and parish councillor Judy Shardlow. She said: “I am very pleased that St George’s School has taken the proactive step of amending their admission rules to ensure that all places will now be allocated to local children.
“There is a growing shortage of school places and this approach will ensure that places needed by local children are not given to those living many miles away.
“In the same vein, I know that the county council admissions team consider that parents who take short term lets near to schools specifically to gain a school place are committing fraud, and will withdraw the place.
“This view has also been spelt out very clearly by St George’s in the past, much to their credit.”
In response to her concerns about fraudulent places, the county council’s cabinet member for education and skills, Frances Button, said: “While we recognise that families do move from time to time, we are constantly on the lookout for parents who might be misrepresenting where they live.
“Renting or buying a property is not a loophole or fraud in itself as long as the family actually reside in the property when applying for a place at the local school.
“However, if it does come to light that the family were not resident at the stated address when applying or move away once a place is allocated then we always investigate and - if found to be fraudulent - we would remove the place.
“If the pupil has been attending the school for a period then we would not usually remove the place but any further siblings would not be eligible to qualify for a priority sibling link.”