Military families may be given priority in applying for schools

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CHILDREN from armed forces families could be given priority when applying for school places under new proposals from Portsmouth City Council.

The authority will investigate if youngsters with parents in the army, navy or air force can be defined as ‘hard to place’ children.

This would mean when they move into the city, or from one ward to another, such families can be fast-tracked through the admissions process.

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.

Opposition education spokesman, Tory Cllr Steve Wemyss, said: ‘We already give priority to certain children, such as those expelled from other schools or children of asylum seekers, under the government’s Fair Access Protocol.

‘But armed forces kids move into an area at very short notice and on average have lower attainments at schools.

‘We thought they should be included in this group as well.

‘In an area which has a number of Ministry of Defence properties it is especially important.’

The recommendation was supported by the majority of the city council and now the Admissions Forum – a body made up of councillors, parents and teachers – will report back on whether it is feasible within three months.

Leader of the council, Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, described it as a sensible suggestion but Lib Dem cabinet member and MP for Portsmouth South Mike Hancock said he had looked into the issue and did not believe there was really a problem.

‘I don’t have service families coming to me saying they cannot get into schools,’ he said.

‘I believe the council will always do everything it can to place these children. If the Conservatives know of families having trouble they should tell us their names so we can help them.’

Julian Wooster, the council’s director of children’s services, said it already helps armed forces families applying for schools and can designate a child as ‘hard to place’ in certain cases.

Asylum seekers are housed by the Home Office in cities like Portsmouth while their applications are considered.