Villages lose allocation of places at Harpenden secondary school

St George's School

St George's School - Credit: Archant

Secondary places for children living in the villages around Harpenden will no longer be ring fenced from next year at one of the town’s three over-subscribed schools.

The governors of St George’s School in Sun Lane have voted in favour of changes to admission rules which will prioritise children living in Harpenden over those from the villages.

The school received 300 responses to its consultation into the changes which were published late last year.

And while the governors were far from unanimously in favour of the change to the St George’s admissions policy, they have been accepted with just two small amendments.

Currently a 20 per cent allocation of St George’s places is ring fenced for Church of England children living in the villages around Harpenden.

It means around 35 village children get places but from 2017, that ring fencing will be replaced with a distance criteria, albeit for faith children, which will make far more places available to children in Harpenden.

In their consultation the governors said that in the past decade, the distance within which a faith applicant in Harpenden would be allocated a place had shrunk from a mile to less than a kilometre due to increased brownfield house building and new compulsory higher priority groups for places.

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They fear that the situation will worsen with demographic figures showing a surge in primary school children unable to get a place at the school.

The admission rule change means that it will be much harder for village children to get places at St George’s over Harpenden children - and minutes of the governors’ meeting on the school’s website show that several were unhappy about it.

One pointed out that the admissions code specifically said that it must not ‘disadvantage unfairly, either directly or indirectly, a child from a particular social or racial group’ and that historically children from the villages were a distinct social group who had been admitted to St George’s through a rule which was specifically designed to offset the disadvantage of distance.

He also felt that villages, because of their size, were unable to host a secondary school and if all local schools were to prioritise distance over other criteria, village children would be denied a Christian education.

But the view that held sway was that the new rule would give greater clarity and transparency to the admissions procedure so that the school would be able to ‘clearly articulate’ why applicants from one street got in over another.

The school will review the situation annually, particularly in light of the opening a new fourth secondary school in Harpenden in 2018, and has tightened up on a couple of admission rules - adding a distance criteria to admissions for medical and social reasons and non-denominational backgrounds and ensuring that in addition to establishing where they are living, parents have to demonstrate that they have severed all ties to a previous address.

Alderman Chris Oxley, who spoke out against the consultation when it was first published, said this week that he was ‘absolutely distressed’ that the school was going ahead with the change.

He added: “Village people have supported the school, have attended church services, been involved in its rugby development and I think this will have an adverse effect on Christianity in the villages because children will have no incentive.”