Applications to start middle school in September 2019 are now open, and after a relatively quiet admissions round last year (thanks to Henlow stretching to accommodate extras), parents of eldest children applying this year are advised not to take anything for granted.
As predicted by many, the promised Pix Brook Academy has failed to materialise in the schools directory for 2019, which means that although it is still supposed to be happening at some point, it will not be accepting applications this year.
This leaves the burgeoning pupil numbers in Fairfield, Stotfold and Arlesey still feeding into just one catchment school: Etonbury Academy. The current Year 4 cohort is 30–40 up on last year – at the last school census in Autumn 2017 there were 256 children on the roll in the four lower schools that traditionally feed Etonbury; the number of places on offer at Etonbury next year is 180.
Previously, solutions have been found, although not always in time to offer parents and children a genuine choice. Over the last two years, many Fairfield children have been accommodated at Henlow CofE Academy, which agreed to take up to 70 pupils over its Published Admissions Number (PAN) of 140 in both 2017 and 2018 to ease the pressure in our area.
This year, however, Henlow’s PAN returns to 140 (as previously agreed, since Pix Brook was to take up the slack from 2019), and with 134 on the roll in its own feeder schools that doesn’t leave a lot of space for ‘any other children’. The story is the same at Robert Bloomfield, our third closest school (in Central Bedfordshire). They have space for the children in their own catchment area, but no more. Over the border in Hertfordshire, there is no standard intake at Year 5.
Luckily for some, the admissions criteria for both Etonbury and Henlow have been altered over the last couple of years to ensure that siblings are high on the admissions criteria even for out-of-catchment applicants – so anyone applying from Fairfield with a sibling at either school can be confident of a place there too.
For those who don’t have siblings already at middle school, there are no obvious solutions. With a potential shortfall of more than 70 places at our catchment school and those who live in Fairfield among the furthest away (with distance being used as the deciding factor), every single child living in our parish who does not qualify for a school place either as a looked after child, as the child of a member of staff, or by having a sibling already at middle school can expect not to make the cut.
Central Bedfordshire Council (CBC)’s website advises parents to “be realistic about the schools you are applying for” – quite a stretch given the facts. It is to be hoped that discussions will be had, and decisions made, about where to provide additional places before the closing date of 15 January, so that parents can make a realistic and informed choice of school, rather than after that date, which takes the decision out of their hands.
There is some safety in numbers (what are the chances of a whole cohort of Fairfield children being scattered in twos and threes across all the middle schools in Central Bedfordshire that happen to have places?) but parents of affected children are strongly advised not to leave things to chance.
To ask questions or make your voice heard, email email@example.com or phone 0300 300 8037 for CBC school admissions; contact Cllr Steven Dixon (Executive Member for Families, Education and Children and Lead Member for Children’s Services) by email on firstname.lastname@example.org; write to our MP, Alistair Burt, on email@example.com; or contact Fairfield Parish Council on firstname.lastname@example.org.