Pupils ‘lost out’ with places policy claims Sheffield headteacher

Fir Vale School headteacher Breffni Martin.
Fir Vale School headteacher Breffni Martin.
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A Sheffield secondary is pressing for changes to admissions policies to help it cope with over-crowding.

Fir Vale School launched its own consultation on introducing ‘fair banding’ ability testing for primary school leavers applying for a place at the school just before Christmas.

Senior staff said proposals were prompted by over-crowding at the school – where pupils with English as a second language make up 33 per cent of the student body – caused by current distance-based allocation.

The over-crowding has been further exacerbated by an influx of migrant families in the Page Hall area.

But plans were withdrawn following concerns from parents, after which Sheffield Council wrote to the school urging it to reconsider.

Headteacher Breffni Martin said: “Last year there were 480 applications for just 210 first-year places.

“The council does it by distance, so this meant that there were pupils with siblings who didn’t get places, and some of the 269 who had Fir Vale as their first choice lost out.

“We were unhappy with the way last year’s admissions were handled and because of that we complained to the local authority.

“We were concerned with over-crowding and the impact that was having. With some ethnic groups children have never been to school before, they can’t read or write and that raises serious funding issues.

“As an academy we are able to change our admissions policy and we decided to look at it.”

Ms Martin said the introduction of fair banding – where pupils are placed in an ability band, with schools allocating a proportion of places to each band – or a similar system would ensure all city schools had a comprehensive intake.

She said: “This is about making sure we have the best choices for the child and resources are spread evenly.”

Burngreave Coun Ibrar Hussain said: “This sort of testing would be discriminatory.

“If they try to introduce this again at a later stage we will fight it.”

A Sheffield Council spokeswoman said: “The school has gone back to the drawing board entirely on whether or not it does in fact change its admission process and is very much looking at this all again.”