School moves to allay admission change fears

Date: Friday 18th January 2019

COUNTY councillor Phil Dew has been assured by the headteacher of Kirkby Stephen Grammar School that all children attending its feeder primary schools who live in the catchment area will be guaranteed a place.

Fears had been raised that proposed changes to the school’s admission policy, which would reduce the published admissions number from 89 per year group to 64, could affect potential pupils on the edge of the catchment area.

The six feeder primary schools are Orton, Tebay, Asby, Warcop, Brough and Kirkby Stephen. Alarm was caused by a letter sent out to parents which said the governors wished to amend the admission policy to give “priority to those living nearest to the school”.

Glenys Lumley, speaking at a meeting of the town council on Tuesday, said the letter had been badly written and had frightened people. Some had started to wonder whether their children might not be able to get a place at the school if they lived on the fringes of the catchment area.

Mr Dew (Con, Kirkby Stephen) said the school was following procedure laid down by the Department for Education. “I think they are surprised by the reaction of people. I think they thought it would be non-contentious. Why they thought that I am not at all sure,” he said.

In view of the reaction, he asked for a meeting with headteacher Gary Hartley in order to find out exactly what the intention of the school was. Mr Dew, who sits on the county council’s children and young people’s scrutiny committee, said the proposal to reduce the number of children admitted into each year group from 89 to 64 in 2020-21 was the most contentious issue.

The published admission number normally applied to Year 7 — the first year of secondary school — but it could refer to each of the year groups. “That’s a big drop from 89 to 64 — it’s 25 children,” said Mr Dew. The figure 64 was significant as that was the number of children which could be comfortably accommodated in two groups in each year.

As it costs the school about £56,000 to provide a third class, there would need to be at least 14 pupils in it to make it financially viable. As each student comes with about £4,000 of income, the school would have a big expenditure shortfall if there were only a few pupils for the extra third class.

Over the next six years, the intake from the grammar school’s six feeder primary schools will hit 64 in only one of those years, apart from 2024-25 when the projected intake will be 86 — sufficiently large for the school to provide for a third class.

Every school had to balance its budget and if it did not the Department for Education would send in advisers who might take control of the budget and impose changes on the school that it would otherwise not wish to see. “The school has to be sensible in the way it manages its budget. It has a responsibility to do that,” said Mr Dew.

“I asked for an assurance from the headteacher that all the children from feeder primary schools will be accommodated. The school was only prepared to go as far as to say all the children from feeder primary schools who live in the current catchment area will be guaranteed a place.”

There were some children attending some of the feeder primary schools on the margin, including Warcop and Asby, who live outside the catchment area and those were the ones whose parents would perhaps feel the greatest concern.

“I know some parents are concerned looking into the future about what will happen,” said Mr Dew. “I have a huge interest and concern in these issues and I am happy that the school has done all that it can do. It has no intention of ultimately trying to restrict the catchment area children as far as it is able to do so.”

The meeting was also told there had been issues with students coming into year groups higher up the school, for example Year 10, who were looking to transfer at the end of Year 9 in order to spend their GCSE years at the school. That had hugely inflated numbers in Year 10 and the school wanted to be able to control that.

A six-week period of consultation is set to close on 31st January.