Parents react to Haringey Council decision not to close school places for siblings loophole

Alex Lyons with her children Oscar, five, and Benjy, three. Picture: Nigel Sutton

Alex Lyons with her children Oscar, five, and Benjy, three. Picture: Nigel Sutton - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Haringey Council has U-turned on its plan to close a loophole allowing families to secure places for their children at some of the borough’s most popular primary schools even after moving miles away from catchment areas.

Cllr Ann Waters, cabinet member for children.

Cllr Ann Waters, cabinet member for children. - Credit: Archant

The cabinet ruled that changing part of its siblings admissions policy would put too many residents at a disadvantage, at the expense of preventing some fraudulent claims for places, at a meeting on Tuesday night.

In October, the Ham&High Broadway reported on its front page the council’s plan to stop parents automatically getting the siblings of their first child into the same school if they subsequently moved more than half a mile outside the school’s catchment area, following complaints from parents and carers.

The proposal was widely welcomed at the time by parents living in the west of the borough, who are worst-affected by fraudulent school claims.

But the council has now cancelled the plans to close this loophole in the primary school admissions policy after looking into how it would affect local families.

Council leader Cllr Claire Kober told the meeting: “This time it feels like the right decision to be taken. We risk disadvantaging lots of people if we solve this particular issue in the borough.”

An Equality Impact Assessment report commissioned by the council found that changing the policy would unfairly impact on ethnic minority communities.

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A consultation also revealed that while 56 per cent were in favour of changing the rules, 44 per cent were against.

Opponents said many people have genuine reasons for moving away from the immediate area, such as eviction from rented accommodation, marriage breakdowns or growing families.

Cllr Ann Waters, cabinet member for children, added: “We decided not to proceed with and change the sibling criterion because of the Equality Impact Assessment has given us the realisation that it would have an adverse impact on too many people who could not be provided for.

“At the same time we are conscious that we have a lot of claims that people are moving fraudulently by moving into an area, get their first child into a school, move away, and then the other children follow into schools that are attractive to a lot of people.

“What we are doing is making sure there is an anonymous whistleblowing provision on our website so people can tell us, because at the moment we have people hinting that this happens but never naming names.”

The decision was widely accepted by those who had previously campaigned for the change.

Former journalist Alex Lyons, who welcomed the proposal when it was announced last year after failing to get her son into her nearest school, said she trusted that the council had done their research into the issue.

But the 38-year-old, of Uplands Road, Crouch End, added: “It seems it would also put people at a disadvantage who live close to the school and can’t get in because they have to travel further.”

Mum-of-one Caroline Howard, 40, of Muswell Hill, supported the council’s decision, and said: “I’m glad they did. Besides anecdotal evidence, do we actually know how many people have ‘gamed’ the system? This seemed a heavy handed measure to target a few.”

She added: “Rather than close loopholes, they should use resources to make all schools equally great so there would be no game to play.”