Harpenden school defends admissions policy following county criticism

St George's School

St George's School - Credit: Archant

Governors at a Harpenden secondary school have defended their admissions arrangements in wake of concerns raised by one of the town’s county councillors.

In an open letter to head teachers in the town in September, Cllr Teresa Heritage said parents had raised two major concerns with her about admission to the town’s secondary schools.

One was sibling allocations, particularly relating to those no longer living in the priority area, and the other was whether families living in south Harpenden could be assured of a place at a school within the town even if a new secondary school is built.

She asked governors to look at their admission rules because of the two years it would need to change them if they needed to be.

Responding to Cllr Heritage, who represents Harpenden South West division, Kevin Parsons, chair of governors at St George’s in Sun Lane, accepted that there was ‘a common view that families might move near to a school such as ours to be close enough to be allocated a place for an eldest child, only to then immediately move away”.

But he stressed that while such concerns were heartfelt, they were not supported by a detailed analysis of admissions to St George’s.

The analysis showed that after assessing applications against the school’s criteria, a small numbesr of sibling places were allocated to students from St Albans or Luton.

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But, Mr Parsons explained, that was a legacy of the school historically taking students from those areas before governors removed them from the priority area three years ago.

He went on: “Sibling applications from these districts will soon cease other than those in exceptional circumstances. Because of the age gap in such cases, to admit into Year 7 a sibling of someone who has joined St Georges for 6th form is rare.

“Finally, a study of our intake over the last three years shows that it is very rare indeed for a family to gain a place for an eldest sibling and then move further away from the school: less than one case per year. It is very much more common for families to be allocated a place for an eldest child and then move even closer to the school.”

Mr Parsons said that the governors could see no ‘robust imperative’ at the moment to change giving priority in admissions to siblings.

He explained that it was consistent with the intent of the founder that St George’s be a family school which avoided a family being pulled in different directions in the schooling of their children and allowed school and home to build productive relationships.

Pointing out that St George’s admissions arrangements were under annual review, especially in light of the increasing student population in the ara, he maintained that if St George’s and the other secondary schools in the town were to remove the sibling rule, he feared it would “replace one unhappy lobbying group with another”.