Gipsy family on illegal site given scarce secondary school places
TWO children from a gipsy family illegally living on a Green Belt site have been given places at an oversubscribed Harpenden secondary school. Two of the Smith children whose family have three months left to get off the site at Riverbanks Stables in Low
TWO children from a gipsy family illegally living on a Green Belt site have been given places at an oversubscribed Harpenden secondary school.
Two of the Smith children whose family have three months left to get off the site at Riverbanks Stables in Lower Luton Road, Wheathampstead, are being educated at Sir John Lawes School.
That is despite the fact that the family owns two houses in Luton and are thought to have moved on to the Riverbanks site to ensure their children got places at the popular Harpenden school.
Not only are two of the children at the school but the sibling rule means that up to five others will automatically get places there.
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The situation has infuriated many families in Wheathampstead who have been unsuccessful in getting places at any of the three over-subscribed Harpenden schools.
And it makes a mockery of Herts County Council's so-called tough stance on potential school-place deception.
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Bobby and Carol Smith bought the Green Belt site in November 2005, moving on several months later. When St Albans District Council discovered what was happening, the family claimed to be travellers and asked for consideration to be given to their gipsy status.
A site visit in December 2006 showed there were seven vehicles there, three of which appeared to have been transferred to the motor trade, and the rest were all registered to a company which was listed at the Smith's two addresses in Luton.
In January a planning inspector who was considering an appeal by the Smiths to stay on the land accepted that they were gipsies but did not recognise their argument that they needed to stay on the site to prevent disruption of their children's education.
He pointed out that they had attended schools near their previous home in Luton which was disrupted by their move to the Riverbanks site.
They were given until August this year to leave the site or face legal action.
Last year the county council promised it would act on school place fraud by sending letters to a random selection of parents and carers in certain areas asking them to provide proof of a permanent address.
It followed a High Court decision in November 2006 to take away a school place in Harpenden from a 12-year-old boy because his parents were unable to provide proof of his permanent address.
The county council's children, schools and families division made a short statement this week, maintaining that they thoroughly investigated all allegations of the use of fraudulent addresses to obtain school places.
A spokesperson added: "When it is clear that places have been allocated on the basis of deliberately misleading or fraudulent information, places are withdrawn. However it would not be appropriate to remove a school place from a child who has been attending a school for a significant period of time."
St Albans district councillor for Wheathampstead, Judy Shardlow, who has been actively campaigning on behalf of the remaining 13 children in the village without a place at the secondary school of their choice, accused the county council of knowing about the situation for a long time and turning a blind eye.
She has been helping a mother without a place for her child who has lived in the village all her life and said: "She hasn't just come in from Luton in the hope of getting a place. A lot of people this year are bewildered and can't believe they are in this situation. The county council don't see how it tears people apart and impacts on their lives."
Mr Smith did not want to make any comment about his children's school places yesterday but said the family were unable to live in their properties in Luton because they were too dilapidated and the council there would not allow them to live in caravans in the garden.