Sibling rule for Leeds school places to be retained after backlash

Mum Nicola Barker with daughter Aleesha, and her other children Teah,David and Hayden.
Mum Nicola Barker with daughter Aleesha, and her other children Teah,David and Hayden.
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Leeds education bosses have scrapped a proposed policy change, which would have seen hundreds of children unable to go to the same schools as their brothers and sisters, after a huge backlash against the plan.

Almost 2,000 parents objected to the proposed changes to the existing rule, which gives priority to siblings.

I am just relieved that they have seen sense and dropped the plans.

It means children with siblings at Leeds schools will continue to get priority places over those living near it.

A Leeds City Council consultation, sparked by complaints from parents unable to get their child into a local school, concluded that “it was more important that siblings could attend the same schools”.

It also found that families feared being left with increased school uniform, transport and childcare costs if the rule was changed.

Councillor Alan Lamb, the Conservative group’s shadow executive board member for children’s services, said: “There was overwhelming opposition from parents and families to this planned change and I am just relieved that they have seen sense and dropped the plans.

“I wrote a letter of objection to the Director of Children’s Services during this consultation and I just cannot understand why the change was proposed in the first place.

“It is clear what the Leeds public thought about this proposal.”

“What the ruling administration needs to do on this issue is get out there and deliver more school places rather than tinkering around the edges with ill-conceived ideas such as this that would have caused disruption and distress for families throughout the city.”

Councillor Judith Blake, the council’s executive board member for children’s services, said school places in the city were already “hugely pressured”.

She said the council wanted to make the policy “fair” - and the majority view had been followed after an annual review of admissions policy.

“In some schools the overwhelming majority of children going into reception are siblings and some of those families don’t live near the school,” she said.

“Through the consultation we tried to come up with the fairest policy we can across the city.”

She acknowledged that when you have pressure for places, some parents won’t get preferred places either way.

But she urged parents applying for school places to always pick their nearest schools, apply in good time and follow guidance.

A report presented to the council’s executive board - which confirmed there would be no change in the sibling rule - stressed that it was only “in a small number of cases” that “siblings from further away may gain places ahead of those living nearer to the school”.

It said it had been “appropriate” to consider a revised policy giving higher priority based on locality, but the “overwhelming opposition” to the plan had been the deciding factor.

The YEP has previously reported the worries of Leeds parents stuck in limbo because of their local schools being oversubscribed.

Among them was Nicola Barker, who was forced to home school her daughter Aleesha for a year because all three of her local primaries were full.

Responding to the latest row, she accepted it was a difficult balance for policy makers.

“You are always going to upset somebody,” she said.

“If your nearest school is down the road, it does seem unfair not to get a place.

“But [if you have children in different schools] how are you supposed to manage?”.

According to Local Government Association figures released last year, Leeds faces a potential shortfall of more than 4,000 early years school slots within three years as education bosses try to tackle a booming birth rate and population increase.

Councillor Blake previously told the YEP the authority is “acutely aware” of the pressure on primary school places across the city and has been “working hard to mitigate the impact of rising pupil numbers” with an ongoing city-wide school expansion programme.

The shortage of school places has become a political football, with the council claiming to be hampered by Government policy - and its emphasis on free schools - from building new schools.

However opponents have claimed the previous Labour Government’s closure of many primary schools, and “appalling planning” by councils, is ultimately to blame.