There were no questions, petitions or statements at the time of despatch
The Chair informed Cabinet that Ms Maggs Walton had requested the opportunity to speak to Cabinet about the School Admissions Item in today’s agenda. Democratic Services then called Ms Walton into the meeting.
The Chair welcomed Ms Walton and explained that she had 5 minutes in which to make her statement to members, and then invited her to speak. Ms Walton gave the following statement:-
‘My name is Maggs Walton, a mother of 3 boys who live in the village of Gosforth. My eldest son has just started Secondary School at Millom and two younger boys attend Gosforth Primary School in year 5 and 3. I am writing in regard to the consultation on the 2022-23 School Admission Arrangements for Community and Voluntary Controlled Schools. I would like to make the case for our area to have dual catchment for the Primary Schools of Gosforth, Seascale and Eskdale.
Since 2017 children from our village have not always been able to get a place at their catchment secondary school of West Lakes Academy. When this first happened in March 2017 parents and children received a letter from Cumbria County Council notifying them that a place was not available for them and that they had been assigned their second choice, Millom, or if a second choice had not been specified they were offered Whitehaven. Given this situation was unprecedented, it came as a great shock to us all in the community. It had a negative affect on the children who were very upset at such a key point in their life. Sadly this has continued to be the norm since then but something we feel strongly as a community we do not want to accept.
Those who had specified Millom School as second choice had done so because there was an existing bus service and historically pupils from Gosforth and surrounding villages have attended this school and they have links with our schools. To our knowledge, no children in these local villages have ever gone to Whitehaven Academy, who have never had links to our schools and even after 3 years of this happening still do not. No contact has been made to try and link us into their transition arrangements. There are no existing school links and no established bus service to that school. Our children would have to pass their catchment school to travel Whitehaven, passing children coming from the other direction who have been allocated a place at their only catchment choice. This does not make sense for our communities or financially! Putting Millom down as a choice means that we, as parents, have to pay for our children’s bus to allow them to attend a school that they have established links with.
This year, my son and many of his friends did not identify West Lakes Academy as their first choice because they knew that they were unlikely to get a place and this would be extremely upsetting to them. It also avoided a period of uncertainty, which would have added to the rest of the worries about moving on to secondary school. By selecting a school they knew they would get a place at they were able to take part in transition activities knowing they would be relevant and useful. This was especially important due to our sons high anxiety due to his ASD and also because of Covid19
Children in this area are disadvantaged due to the rural nature of the communities and are never going to be able to win places at an oversubscribed schools based on the closest child to the school criteria. I am concerned that there could be an affect on the community if people move away to get closer to a secondary school.
I believe that the fairest solution is to make the primary schools dual-catchment with Millom. This will formalise the current situation which has arisen as it is the best and most natural fit for the communities, which have never seen themselves as part of Whitehaven but as part of an area running south. For example, my children went to toddler groups in Drigg, and the scout packs are made up of children from the various primary schools. It is harmful for children to be told that they can’t be with these peers but instead will have to attend a school in Whitehaven. Our children were very upset for their friends in 2017 and it continues to be a worry for them all.
Of course, making the area dual catchment would mean that the County Council would be responsible for transport. I believe that other evidence has shown that the cost difference between sending children to Whitehaven or Millom is not significant. It would remove cost as a consideration in choice of school, again allowing disadvantaged children meaningful choice. Currently we feel discriminated against in our rural villages.
I’m asking you to make a difference to the lives of children living in this rural area at an important time in their life, the transition to secondary school. These children will face many other challenges growing up, such as no or limited public transport. The County Council should take a simple action which would be to the benefit of generations of children, the County Council should make our schools dual catchment.’
The Chair thanked Ms Walton for attending and making the statement.
He then asked Democratic Services to call the local member for Gosforth, Mr Paul Turner into the meeting to make his statement.
Mr Turner gave the following statement:-
‘Thank you for allowing me to speak today, my statement refers to the School Admissions Policy relating to the Gosforth Division and the schools of Gosforth, Seascale and St Begas.
My first point is that the admissions Policy Consultation closed mid-November and has not been given the benefit of full scrutiny after the consultation closed. There were 13 responses made that have clearly not been considered. A formal request was made to delay its submission to Cabinet but as we know it is here today.
My request is that the catchment area that covers the above schools is reviewed and serious consideration be given to making the area dual catchment. The financial implications are not that great as previously documented.
One of your officers in a meeting just two weeks ago openly admitted that the policy is now flawed and made the following comments
So if your own officers recognise that this needs to be looked at then isn’t it time after two years of challenging this that the Admissions Policy in relation to catchment areas in this area be reviewed as a matter of urgency. This is a rural area and as such it is being discriminated against by the inflexibility of the current system.
With proposed changes to housing stock in Copeland and the building of a new school the prospect for the parents in this area is bleak without the option to choose schools.
So, I ask that if possible that the Catchment area be implemented for the new school year 2021 or as soon as possible.’
The Cabinet Member responded to both participants at the same time, saying:-
‘Thank you both for coming to talk to Cabinet today about this important subject, asking for the alignment of the catchment areas to be revisited. She understood the concerns and why the proposed decision appeared to be very unfair. She reassured the participants that the county council had considered this many times and it had been debated on numerous occasions. The previous decisions made by Cabinet on this had been subject to call in twice, and debated again then.
At the end of a recent Children and Young People’s Scrutiny Advisory Board, Mr Turner had again raised this, asking for a request to be made to Cabinet to defer the paper. However, due to the statutory deadlines which needed to be met, the paper could not be deferred.
She advised the participants that Cabinet would be looking at the papers shortly and invited them to listen to the discussions via the live web link’.
The Chair thanked Ms Walton and Mr Turner for attending today.