The council’s executive committee unanimously approved the decision to revisit the Belleville admissions policy last night. This was a final formal hurdle, since under the council’s executive and scrutiny model the Overview and Scrutiny Committees (OSCs) don’t have formal decision-making powers.

The practice is that the executive committee will rubber stamp the OSC views, recognising the OSCs ability to undertake detailed study, discussion and debate. There was a strange paper (opens a PDF) from the director of children’s services reminding members of their power to accept, reject or insert their own amendment which worried me slightly, but proved irrelevant when the time came.

It does point out that it means the existing criteria will stay until 2013 because of the consultation timetables (not, you might think, that much heed has been given to consultations in the past!) but in fact this is probably a slight win for the ward since several roads within the Shaftesbury ward are closer to Belleville than roads within the proposed first priority area they are now have a better chance of getting places. Of course, roads near the Forthbridge Road site will still miss out – but then they would not have any places in any event!

Now that the formal decision has been taken it’s up to us to make sure that meaningful discussions take place about a more meaningful set of admissions criteria.

One of the things that has impressed me throughout is the maturity of approach of the Forthbridge Road residents, who were perfectly happy to accept the need for places to be given to children from around Belleville, just not happy with the total exclusion of children near Forthbridge Road. Similarly, my suspicion is that Belleville recognises the inequity of soaking up all the places in a school without any concession to its neighbourhood. The challenge will be finding the right balance and coming up with a model that is flexible enough to respond to the inevitable changes in behaviour that will result.

Wix Primary SchoolOffers of places in the borough’s primary schools last week and while many parents will be pleased with the schools their child has been offered many will have been disappointed. About a third of parents did not get their child into their first choice of school, and while there will still be some change (people may move or transfer to the private sector) there won’t be enough to change to mean everyone gets their choice.

There are many reasons not everyone got their first choice. First, some schools are obviously more popular than others and are over subscribed, and some schools still have spaces, for example, most schools in Battersea still have places remaining. Second, the population change in the borough is not evenly distributed putting more pressure on schools in the south and west of the borough (and likewise leaving spare places in Battersea). Third, the recession has played a part, there are undoubtedly parents who would have moved or opted for the private sector but now find the economy means putting their children into a Wandsworth school.

It is a consequence of choice. Parents’ choices will never conveniently fit existing provision; but choice, even if not perfect, is better than the old ways which saw parents forced to send their children to the nearest school, regardless of their wishes. While not everyone will be entirely satisfied, the majority of parents got their first choice school for their child.

The council will be looking at expanding the entry into a number of schools this Summer (as we did last year) which will ease some of the pressure. But this is an ongoing challenge for the council and the borough’s schools. The best long-term solution, realistically, is improving the standards of all our schools so the first choices are more evenly spread.