Belleville School Plan Sent Back to the Drawing Board

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Author: Ian Hamilton
Wandsworth Council’s Education Committee has thrown-out a controversial new admissions scheme proposed for Belleville Primary School.
Instead the Committee has asked Wandsworth Children’s Services Department to go back and “investigate other admission solutions that avoid a situation where families adjacent to <the Forthbridge Rd school site> have no access to the school”.
This second site is to be used for expansion by the popular Belleville School (based at Webbs Rd) from 2011. Residents near Forthbridge Rd have been campaigning for almost a year for a right of access for local children to this site.
Last Wednesday evening the Committee was presented with the results of the second consultation within a year on the matter. This included a recommendation from Children’s Services for two ranked priority admission areas for the Belleville School.
Ian Hamilton was invited to address the committee on behalf of local residents and parents near the Forthbridge Rd.
Mr Hamilton reminded the committee how this latest consultation was held in response to nearly 500 objections made in a previous consultation in June 2010. Most of those objections were to admissions still being based on the distance from the Belleville main school site, 1km away from Forthbridge Rd, Even though this second site will be used to house a class of pupils per year group, the popularity of Belleville would mean children local to the Forthbridge Rd site had little chance of gaining places at it.
Mr Hamilton said that many felt the proposal for a second priority area did not adequately address these concerns even though it was approved in the recent consultation by a narrow majority (51%).
He also pointed out that the recommendations actually placed before the Committee included a new area added onto the second priority area which was not included in the most recent proposals i.e. had not actually been consulted upon, and many felt this raised serious questions about due process.
He added that, as this new area is closer to the Belleville main site (from which admission distance would still be measured), much of the area designated around Forthbridge would in effect become a third priority area.
Kate Amis the Chair of Belleville Governors also spoke to register the objections of Belleville Governing Body to the plans. She raised issues about the effect of the proposals on sibling admissions and their possible impact on the filling vacancies higher up the school.
All three Shaftesbury ward Councillors – Cllr Guy Senior, Cllr James Cousins & Cllr Jonathan Cook – were present and then spoke passionately against the “unfair” and “complicated” plans. These plans, the latest in a series of council proposals, could have seen children living over a mile away gaining places at the Forthbridge Rd site ahead of children living next door to it.
Committee member Cllr Cook noted that 301 of the 304 responses received from Shaftesbury Ward residents were against the proposals and he tabled the crucial amendment (requesting that other admissions solutions be investigated). Committee member and Parent Governor representative Jon Cox described the campaign by residents near Forthbridge as “sympathetic” and “honourable”.
All five speakers and the outcome of the vote itself (6-4) were met with applause and cheers from a packed public gallery.
Campaigner Ian Hamilton said:

Finally we have victory for common sense. Thanks to the support of our local councillors and residents we now have a chance to formulate a transparent arrangement that includes some element of local admission to the Forthbridge Rd site – the only solution most people would consider as fair
The rising demand for school places is creating some difficult situations, but it’s great to see so many residents who care about schools in their area. We really want to work openly with the council, all the local schools, residents and parents to resolve this issue in a positive way“.

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Addendum: Cyril Richert
The conclusion of the report (download pdf HERE) such as:

“Due to the continuing rise in birth rate it is recommended that the planned primary school expansion from 1FE to 2FE at Alderbrook is progressed and that the Belleville Primary school’s admissions criteria are amended to establish a first priority area and a second priority area, the latter in two parts as described in this report.”

was rejected by 6 votes to 4:
The Education committee amended the recommendation in paragraph 3(a), to read as follows:

ask the Children’s Services Department to investigate other admission solutions that avoid a situation where families adjacent to the Vines have no access to the school, and that better addresses the concerns of local parents, governors and residents, and report them for consideration at a future meeting of the Education and Children’s Services OSC

VOTING:
Councillor Jonathan Cook tabled amendment
Seconded by Councillor Andy Gibbons
FOR
Councillor Jonathan Cook
Councillor Andy Gibbons
Councillor Wendy Speck
Mr. Jonathan Cox (Parent Governor Rep)
Dympna Margaret Kelly (Parent Governor Rep)
Mr. John Russell (CofE Rep)
AGAINST
Councillor Peter Dawson  (Chairman)
Councillor Mrs. Tessa Strickland  (First Deputy Chairman)
Councillor Charles McNaught-Davis  (Second Deputy Chairman)
Councillor Steffi Sutters
ABSENT: Councillor Jo-Anne Nadler
In other words, all the Conservatives councillors but 1 (elected in Shaftesbury ward) supported the report. It is thank to the two parent governors, Diocesan representative and the two Labour Councillors that the report was amended, with the support of the Shaftesbury Cllr member of the committee!
You can also read the report from James Cousins on his blog, with the title: Rebellion and school admissions. He said:

Last night was the first time I’ve ever ‘rebelled’ by speaking (but not voting, as I’m not a committee member) against the proposed admissions policy for Belleville School. […] I’ve always been clear in my view that the council is not perfect, like any person or organisation it can make mistakes; what is important is that it can spot and rectify those mistakes. Last night, I was proud that the council proved it isn’t an unstoppable juggernaut, it is a mature and responsive organisation – it might not get things right first time, but it’s prepared to listen to make sure it’s gets there in the end.

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