Well it has been a little while since I have blogged, preferring the newer medium of Twitter for those who prefer the instant gratification of social media, rather than newsletters and face-to-face meetings.
However sometimes 140 characters (or 280 as it is now) is sometimes just not enough to say what needs to be said.
Every seven years the Council is required (for schools that are not their own admissions authority) to consult on school catchment areas, along with a number of other things.
Therefore, back in the summer, the Council decided to review the catchment areas, particularly to see if there was a way of dealing with the recent significant oversubscription in the south Leigh area, with West Leigh Infants, Leigh North Street and Chalkwell Hall Infants schools.
When we looked at this, the information we had led us to believe that this oversubscription would continue, as the birth rate data we had was over the Pupil Admission Numbers (number of places we have) for the next two years and the recent popularity of the schools suggested that we would be having more applications than births (people move into the area to go to the schools).
Some residents were delighted with the changes that were proposed, meaning that they were much more likely to get to go to their local school. Others, who were being moved out of their existing catchment area were, understandably, not so pleased.
Because of the contentious nature of the issue, I decided that the Council should have an informal consultation first (‘listening and engagement’), which led to some significant amendments to the proposals.
We were able to make some amendments, having listened to the public feedback as well as in consultation with schools (including those that are not under the Local Authority remit) – as we need to all work together in Southend to ensure a joined up education system – which formed the final model which the Council consulted on.
This included a much smaller area moving out from West Leigh Infants, with a ‘priority status’ meaning that in years of undersubscription those pupils would be the first to get any remaining places.
The knock-on impact of this meant that a number of people would need to move from Leigh North Street to Darlinghurst Primary School, as they too were oversubscribed and the number of children moving from West Leigh to Leigh North Street (as it was their next nearest school) would only increase that number. We also looked to move a number of children from Chalkwell Hall Infants, due to the forecast oversubscription there.
The proposed model formed a solution was not universally popular.
Overall response to the consultation was narrow and focussed as would be expected. There was significant lobbying and media pressure (traditional and social media), but this did not result in strong and clear voice one way or the other. Different groups responded differently based upon their own circumstances. The number of overall responses was not as high as initial expectations may have led us to expect. In terms of a clear message, a significant number lobbied for no change, whilst a smaller, but not insignificant amount lobbied for the aspect that best suited their needs.