My understanding of the suggestion (and it is no more than that at the moment, and would be subject to full consultation) is that:
- Some catchment areas in the north of the county - particularly that for Royal Latin would remain unchanged.
- Other catchment areas would need to be completely re-drawn and would perhaps be somewhat larger than at present.
- Statemented children whose statement names the specific school and children in care would continue to have first call on places.
- Allocation of the remaining places would then be made at random within the school's catchment area. That would avoid the situation of children being bussed from the north to the south of the county (as in your post, Rob).
- The up-side of the change would be that it would give every child living within the school's catchment area
an equal chance of gaining a place, whether they lived 1 mile or 10 miles from the school. It would therefore remove most of the problem of fraudulent applications because living next door to the school would carry no definite advantage. However, a fraudulent application could still succeed if someone moved in to catchment and they were lucky in the random allocations process.
- It would also mean that children in the furthest reaches of catchment areas who are currently disadvantaged by the distance criterion would stand an equal chance of gaining a place.
- However, it also means that a child living on the doorstep of the school might not receive a place there, and have to be bussed to another GS. If the re-drawing of catchment areas was not done very carefully, that could potentially be a school some considerable distance away. One suggestion was that there could be "priority areas" within catchment to avoid that situation arising, but that would re-open the door to fraudulent applicants moving close to the school.
My feeling is that at present everyone knows fairly roughly where they stand based on past allocation distances. With a random allocation system, no one will know where they stand, and I can't see how it will actually increase the overall level of satisfaction with allocations. Just as many people are likely to end up without their first preference school.
To give some context on the size of the problem, this extract from the recent Admissions Forum minutes may be helpful:
Members were very pleased to note that for 2010 transfer only 45 resident pupils were offered a place at a non-preference school, a significant improvement on previous years. Overall, the number of pupils securing a place at a first preference school was slightly lower, but more pupils had been offered places at lower ranked preferences.
The catchment area changes that had been put in place for 2010 appeared to have reduced the levels of parent anxiety. In particular, John Hampden Grammar School now served the Gerrards Cross and Denham areas. However, there was parental concern that four boys from the Farnham Common and Stoke Poges area had not been able to secure a place at John Hampden Grammar School.
Dr Challoner’s Grammar School – as at 10 June, 16 boys remained on the school’s waiting list (eight resident in the catchment area). Transfer appeals had been heard.
The Royal Grammar School – as at 10 June, 24 boys remained on the school’s waiting list (17 resident in the catchment area). Transfer appeals were still to be heard.
All residents had been offered a place with 101 declining that offer without being offered an alternative. These pupils were on the waiting lists for preferred schools.
Additionally, the situation had improved for qualified catchment girls seeking a place at either Dr Challoner’s High School or Beaconsfield High School, and where it had not been possible to offer a place an alternate preference had been offered.
At initial allocation only eight pupils were not offered a place at a preferred catchment area school.
The numbers of pupils being seriously disadvantaged by the current system of allocations are not huge, and (unless I have read some of this wrong) there appear to be some parents who are turning down one GS place in the hope of a "better" one turning up. I assume that they must have an alternative lined up in the private sector.