Primary places upset

8th December 2000 at 00:00
Legal loophole may block school choices of parents of children under five: Executive calls in lawyers

PARENTS of children under five who want to make a placing request in the new year to their favoured primary may have their choice blocked by a legal loophole in the recent education Act.

Lawyers have been called in by the Scottish Executive and Glasgow City Council to try to resolve the wrangle over the legal age at which children start school. Ultimately, the matter is likely to be tested in the sheriff courts by irate parents who fail to win their choice of school.

Placing request legislation was tidied up in the Standards in Scotland's Schools etc Act that became law last July, but eagle-eyed officials in Glasgow believe the legislation failed to amend the 1980 Education Act. It defines school-age children as over five. However, many pupils enter primary when they are four-and-a- half and others are just over four.

Ian McDonald, depute director of education, said: "There is a problem and we're taking legal advice."

A Scottish Executive spokesman added: "This matter has been raised with us and we're seeking clarification from our legal advisers."

Sandra West, president of the Glasgow branch of the Association f Head Teachers in Scotland, said the issue had been raised at a recent headteachers' meeting. "There may be a problem for schools that are full to the gunwales," Mrs West said.

There is unlikely to be a problem in many primaries since there is always space available in a period of falling rolls. Placing requests could be accepted as normal.

But parents of children over five who do not win their first choice of school because pupils under five have been accepted may test the wording of the education legislation in the courts. Lawyers are likely to battle over the definition of an under-age child and whether any child under five can be entered through a placing request. It is suggested the Executive did not amend previous legal wording since it wanted to avoid parents making placing requests to nursery schools and nursery classes in primaries. Ironically, it may have trapped itself by another route.

Judith Gillespie, development manager at the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, believes local authorities should have more flexibility. "These are the type of difficulties you get when you start messing around with a simple process. If you're eligible for school, you should be eligible to make a placing request," she said.

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