Miscalculation over Harpenden school places

CHILDREN in Harpenden could have missed out on a place at their nearest school had a concerned grandparent not discovered Herts County Council had been measuring distances from the wrong school.

The error was noticed when the grandfather went onto the council’s own website to measure the distance from his grandchild’s home to the school gates. He discovered that the distance from Crabtree Primary School to his daughter’s home was not 407m – as the council claimed – but 354m. The council had measured from Crabtree Junior School.

The mother said the error was just one in a series of mistakes and inept management of the admissions process she had encountered over the last week.

She said: “We don’t know what will happen now that we have shared this information with the council, but it has implications for everyone. Children already given places won’t lose theirs but additional spaces will be added at the school to accommodate children who weren’t given a place. We were told they couldn’t increase the spaces at the school last week but it seems they can if they make a mistake.”

The mother, who doesn’t wish to be named, said she felt incredibly let down by the council which she accused of failing parents on all fronts.

She said: “They are giving out inconsistent information to parents’ enquiries, they’ve grossly underestimated the number of children who required places and failed to provide community schooling in the areas where it is needed.”

She has lived in Harpenden all her life and is now a member of Harpenden Parents Group. She says there is a lot of strong feeling there among parents.

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She added: “We want local school places for our children; we want our children to be involved in their local community and more to the point, we want to be able to walk our children to school. What is needed is an extra class in either Crabtree or High Beeches schools.”

A council spokesperson said they had investigated the issue and found three children were affected by the miscalculation – all had been written to and offered places.

He said: “Following investigation we have found that the address points on our system for Crabtree Infant and Junior Schools were mislabelled.

“This data was imported into our system from the Ordnance Survey and we have contacted them about the issue.”

He said no places would be withdrawn from any child already offered a place.

Ben Bardsley, of Harpenden Parents Group, said the whole situation was deplorable because they had given the council plenty of warning about the shortfall this year, using the council’s own forecasts.

He said: “This outcome is symptomatic of the county council and their lack of communication and organisation with regards to the process.

“This year they have opened up extra forms in classes but they should have done this before they allocated places and informed some parents they hadn’t received any place – this might have prevented some upset for families.”

Ben called on the council to make sure parents whose children were not allocated a place were not disadvantaged in the continuing interest process. He added: “This has effectively become their initial allocation day and HCC need to ensure the process is fair given the unprecedented situation.”

But a spokesperson for the council said: “All applicants, and those who already hold an offer for a lower preference school, will be included in the first continuing interest round. All places must be offered in order to ensure equality, fairness and transparency and not to do so would be maladministration.

“We are confident that every child in the county will be allocated a local school place following the process.”

To find out more about Harpenden Parents Group, visit www.harpendenparentsgroup.co.uk