Council blamed for 'serious mismanagement'

21st August 2009 at 01:00
Inverclyde promises changes following hard-hitting inquiry into handling of school admissions

Original paper headline: Council blamed for `serious mismanagement' over places

An independent review of Inverclyde Council's school placing requests policy found four different versions in circulation, with contradictory information contained in each document.

The council's criteria for granting placing requests appeared to vary from one year to the next, and the admissions process lacked consistency and transparency, the report said.

Ian Fraser, Inverclyde's former corporate director of education and social care, was suspended and subsequently took early retirement after the council's chief executive, John Mundell, ordered an investigation into a placing request row.

On Tuesday, Mr Mundell promised to take immediate action to create a more coherent policy on admissions and parental placing requests after a special meeting of the education and lifelong learning committee considered the report by Maggi Allan, former education director of South Lanarkshire.

Inverclyde is not alone in wrestling with the difficulty of planning its future school estate and balancing falling rolls with parental aspirations and placing requests. Ms Allan's findings could now lead other authorities to review their policies and may also put pressure on the Government to introduce legislation.

Mr Mundell described the report's findings as "obviously extremely disappointing", as they had identified a number of serious management and operational issues in the education department.

Despite this, the Scottish Centre for Studies in School Administration (SCSSA), which specialises in leadership and management training, announced this week that Mr Fraser had joined its staff.

Ms Allan's report, which was commissioned in May and cost pound;35,500, makes a series of recommendations - including the need to reduce the physical capacity of the council's secondary schools. This means, in effect, that some classrooms will be turned over to alternative uses, such as community learning and development or teachers' continuing professional development, so that parents cannot argue that there is space for their children over and above the capping level set by the council.

The council had sought to reduce the S1 intakes for Gourock High and Greenock Academy, pending their merger in 2011 when they become Clydeview High. Education officials tried to manage the intake by limiting placing requests to the existing two schools, but this was overruled in court. A sheriff decided that, as Greenock Academy had admitted 160 pupils in 2007, it still had the capacity to admit the same number in 2008, rather than capping its intake at 80.

Ms Allan criticises the directorate for failing to appreciate and act upon the strategic impact of the sheriff's decision. The situation was further exacerbated when it was found there were 101 pupils in Gourock High's catchment, but only 100 places available for 2009-10.

Parents then received a letter informing them that a ballot had taken place to determine which pupil would not be granted entry to Gourock High this month. Thirteen other fam-ilies, whose placing requests had been rejected, also appealed successfully to the council's education appeals committee.

Inverclyde also operated its admissions policy for secondary schools purely according to address, rather than simply giving priority to pupils in the associated primaries. That is expected to change, as a result of the review.

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