Friday, 8 December 2017

West Leigh catchment dilemma

I can only sympathise with the Council as it tries to broker an acceptable resolution to the problem on junior school catchments. This is a problem that has been building over recent years and reflects that with anticipated growth in school numbers the Town’s most popular schools, which are already bursting at the seams, will not be able to accommodate the children in their catchment area.
The problem is particularly pertinent in West Leigh which as the most westerly ward in the Borough has its nearest primary school (West Leigh) located towards the most easterly side of the ward.

Even in my years on the council this meant that in years with higher admission numbers the school could not cope with the numbers in its catchment area resulting in “distance” becoming the deciding factor. However because the school is not located in the middle of the ward this meant that the children living towards the borough boundary with Castle Point did not receive a place notwithstanding that they were “Southend” children and lived in catchment.

Their only options were then to attend a school in another area or, if they wished to attend a Southend school, journey past West Leigh and on to Darlinghurst or Fairway even though this journey was far longer than it would have been for many of the children actually allocated places at West Leigh.

This must be wrong and it seems to me to be right and courageous of the Council to try and address the problem – particularly when quite rightly the issue of school catchment areas is so emotive to parents.

My preferred solution in the short term is that in years where numbers allow the children in the current catchment take priority, but when this is not the case the priority runs from the Borough’s western boundary towards the school until all available places are taken.

I appreciate that this will create a situation where some children who live quite close to West Leigh will be forced to attend another school, but that must be fairer than expecting the children towards the boundary to undertake an even longer journey.

In the mid-term the issue of primary places in the west of the town does need to be addressed and it is a pity that the previous idea of a new school at Belfairs could not be pursued.

It is the kind of problem that makes life as a local councillor challenging but potentially rewarding.

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