Bid to fast-track navy children into schools scrapped

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A BID to give children from armed forces families priority when applying for school places looks set to be scrapped.

Plans to define youngsters with parents in the army, navy or air force as ‘hard to place’ children have met with opposition from Portsmouth City Council’s admissions panel, which was asked to investigate the issue.

The body – which is made up of councillors, parents and teachers – concluded there was not enough evidence of a problem to fast-track such families through the admissions process when they move into the city, or from one ward to another.

Concerns were raised by the council’s Conservative group that because the military can require its personnel to move during term time – if they are redeployed or receive a promotion – they can struggle to find places at secondary schools.

But at a meeting of the full council, it was questioned whether councillors could legally change the policy as the final say is down to the admissions panel, which has now been asked to review its decision.

Opposition education spokesman Tory Cllr Steve Wemyss said he thought the final decision should rest with the elected members of the council.

‘The numbers we’re talking about are small,’ he said.

‘And all this would be is a small expression of support for military families in a military town.’

He added: ‘It’s not right that an unaccountable body should decide things like this. Somebody needs to take a stand.

‘If there is no evidence that it is a big problem why wait before putting something in place?’

Of the eight secondary school headteachers who responded to the admissions panel during their investigation, seven said they were not in favour of the proposed changes, with Springfield School, in Drayton, their only supporter.

Primary head teachers were described as being of a similar view.

But opposition deputy leader Donna Jones said data on whether there was a problem had not been collected by the council.

‘The problem is we don’t even ask the question,’ she said. ‘It isn’t an option people can put down when applying, so nobody knows how much of a problem there is. I hope the admission panel makes the right decision.’

Leader of the council Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson said: ‘The problem area is around Springfield where more military families live, but no one has come to us to say they couldn’t get a place.

‘If it does become a problem then we will look at it again.’