28 January 2010

Lib Dems politicise school admissions committee

We’ve just been given some really shocking news about the school admissions forum – the body which oversees almost all aspects of Southwark’s school admissions.

Many readers will already know about the chaotic allocation of primary school places in East Dulwich and Nunhead for 2009-10, when the council hugely underestimated the demand for places in local schools and failed to provide enough staff to administer the process adequately. Having a cross party appraoch on the admissions forum was essential to ensuring that officers were challenged to improve the process this year.

With the apparent support of Peckham Rye Lib Dems, Southwark’s Lib Dem/Tory coalition, have thrown the Labour representative off the committee, without any explanation. Southwark Labour’s Education spokesperson Cllr Veronica Ward had been a member of the School Admissions Forum for almost four years, before being chucked off at a meeting of Lib Dems and Tories on Monday night. She had attended the forum far more regularly than either the Lib Dem or Tory representatives. It is suspected that the parties running the town hall were not comfortable with a Labour member being present to challenge their approach.

Both the Lib Dems and Tories have kept their place on the forum, despite the Conservative Party holding less than a quarter of Labour’s seats in the council chamber and despite them only managing to attend four meetings, to Veronica's 14, over the last three years.

Back in October the admissions forum was given the specific task of reviewing the unintended consequences of the admissions distance criteria whereby failure to get into the nearest school (because of its small catchment area) may work against getting into the second and other nearest schools. It now remains unclear if the Lib Dem-Tory Committee will be taking this task seriously.

Southwark Labour’s Education and Children’s Services spokesperson, Cllr Veronica Ward said in reaction to the move:

“I just can’t understand what’s happened with this decision. Parents in East Dulwich and Peckham Rye have genuine concerns about the way the admissions process for primary schools is handled and I want to fight their corner. But the Lib Dems and Tories have chosen put their own interests ahead of the interests of the parents they’re here to serve. “

“They’d rather pretend that everything’s OK than resolve the serious issues.”

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