Interim Response: This petition will be submitted to the Education and Skills Cabinet Panel meeting on 8 September 2011. A full response will be published here after that meeting. Full response follows: A Petition for Harpenden Citizens to request Council action to address Community School allocation issues in our town - The Issue The County Council fully recognises the concerns of parents and residents regarding school places in Harpenden. Indeed, both officers and local members have met with the local representative group twice to discuss this issue in more detail and have agreed to fully engage on this issue moving forward. •28% of eldest children applying for a primary school place in 2011 did not get allocated one of their 3 ranked schools on allocation day. This is a continuation of the downward trend of parental choice over the past 3 years. As you know, we are dedicated to securing access to local school places across Hertfordshire. The number of pre-school age children living in Harpenden has increased dramatically and it is important to recognise that all Harpenden children were allocated a reception within the town. However, I accept that parents do not feel that in every instance this offer has been at either their closet school and/or at a school of their preference. As an update, there were 65 non-ranked allocations in the town on allocation day, there are now 26 following rounds of continued interest. It is true that the satisfaction rate in Harpenden has decreased over the past three years. Including the VA sector the number of eldest children not getting a ranked allocation is 23% which compares with 18% last year. All families were able to access a good quality nursery place in either the maintained or PVI sector. •Significant areas of central Harpenden provide no hope of community schooling for the families who live there – see map. •The Herts County Council’s (HCC) reaction has been to introduce emergency solutions, based on minimum cost options that are not sustainable and are fragmenting local communities. (dealt with together) The primary age forecast last year suggested that a temporary increase in places would be required for two years. In discussion with the local group of headteachers, we increased the allocation to three schools in Harpenden to satisfy this demand. The increase of 15 places at The Grove Infant and 30 places St Dominic Primary intended to cater for an increase in 2011 and 2012 and an additional 30 places at The Lea for 2011 only. These schools are in the north, centre and south of the town geographically. With the exception of The Lea, these schools were identified as they offer potential for expansion in the long term, unlike many other schools in the town. The Lea currently has space within the existing building to accommodate an additional class without the need for additional accommodation. •Many nursery school applicants did not get the places they wanted. The County Council fulfilled its duty to secure sufficient places in Harpenden. All families were able to access a good quality nursery place in either the maintained or PVI sector. •The under-supply of school places appears to be set to continue for 3 years or more. This is the second year of significant and growing problems The most recent forecast suggests that numbers are increasing in the town, although not at the same level as this year. We have committed to continue to work and share information with this local group to consider any additional requirements and the longer term pattern of provision in Harpenden. •The lack of a geographical measure to the sibling rule and no robust checks on residency means that places are being given to people who are not part of the local community, to the exclusion of real residents. With regard to the sibling rule, the current School Admissions Code states that “Many parents want their children to attend the same school and most admission authorities recognise this and give priority to siblings". The new draft Code (published on 27 May) also recognises sibling links as one of the most commonly used admission criteria. The County Council has previously investigated the impact of giving siblings outside a school’s immediate local area a lower priority in its admission arrangements, but concluded at that time that the change would have minimal impact and, in some areas, would simply mean that a different set of local parents would not be offered their preferred school. More work in to the impact of the sibling rule is planned (after the publication of the new code) in preparation for potential consultation as part of the admission arrangements in 2014/15. With regard to residency checks, as an authority we undertake a number of residency checks every year, using information received from schools and local residents to identify potential fraudulent applications. Following the allocation of places, we perform random checks in popular, oversubscribed areas; this year, for example, writing to over 60 families in Harpenden who had been allocated places under our distance-based rules. Where there is evidence that a place has been obtained fraudulently, we will withdraw the offer and vigorously defend any appeal against our decision. Our admission rules also deny siblings links to families with elder children already attending a school, where we subsequently learn the place was obtained fraudulently. •An unprecedentedly large number of directly affected parents and those with Nursery age children, together with concerned community members, wish to engage with HCC to find a sustainable solution. Thanks to the presenters of the petition and all those who signed it. As an authority we are committed to finding the best long term solution for children of all ages in the Harpenden community. As promised, we will continue to engage with the working group to discuss education provision in the town.