Pupil turned away from school with empty desks

Pentland Primary School. Picture: Julie Bull

Pentland Primary School. Picture: Julie Bull

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THE law on class sizes has been branded “not fit for purpose” after a mother’s five-year-old child was refused entry to a popular Edinburgh primary school – even though places were available.

The mother, who asked not to be named, said she had filed an out-of-catchment request for a place in next session’s P1 class at Pentland Primary.

She expected her child would be let in as the school’s projected P1 intake for three classes in August was 66 – nine below the Scottish Government limit of 75.

But she was left stunned and angry when the request, re-submitted on appeal last month, was turned down because offering all of the available P1 places at the school would create a “bottleneck” when the children reach P4 in three years’ time.

Education chiefs said a composite teacher would be available at Pentland to alleviate roll pressures in P2 and P3. But they argued that squeezing all 75 youngsters into two P4 classes would force the school to hire an extra staff member, as not doing so would leave it in breach of the P4 limit of 33 per class.

The mother, who is friends with two other parents in the same situation, said: “I feel frustration. I know there are places there in P1 and I just feel that the council should hand them out.”

Adding to her bewilderment was the admission of three other children on appeal as 
excepted or “ghost” pupils, who will not count towards P1 rolls after the summer but will create accommodation headaches when they are officially added from P2 onwards.

It is understood “future stage” refusals based on capacity constraints further up a school are among the most common reasons for turning down P1 applications to primaries across Edinburgh.

“What they’re saying is that the three who got in do not count, but it means 69 have been accepted,” said the mother, whose older child attends Pentlands Primary.

“In P4, it means there will be a class of 35 and 34. What does the school do then?” She added: “Trying to get my children to two different schools in the morning will be very difficult.”

Opposition councillors said the confusion was evidence of flaws in the law on class sizes and urged reform.

Councillor Jason Rust, Conservative education spokesman and member for Colinton and Fairmilehead, said: “It shows the system is not entirely fit for purpose. There’s a difficulty at Pentlands and presumably it will put more pressure on staff – some children could receive less attention. There are set rules to keep everyone the same across the board but, when it comes to enforcement, the system is not meeting the intention.”

A council spokesman said: “If the panel allows an appeal then the council and school have to accept that decision. There is also no right of appeal for the council and schools will have to accommodate the 
pupils. The law also says that there is no limit on how many pupils can be successful in their appeal to a particular school.

“Every year we run a campaign advising parents to visit their local school to find out the benefits of sending their child there. We also highlight the risks associated with making out-of-catchment requests and that many may not be met due to increased space pressures.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Councils have undertaken to maintain teacher numbers in line with pupil numbers and we will continue to work with them to deliver this.”

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