'Why should she be punished for not being religious?' - Wheathampstead children miss out on preferred secondary schools

'Why should she be punished for not being religious?' - Wheathampstead children miss out on preferred secondary schools

'Why should she be punished for not being religious?' - Wheathampstead children miss out on preferred secondary schools

First published in News
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St Albans & Harpenden Review: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter

Families from Wheathampstead feel "badly let down" after Hertfordshire County Council failed to find suitable secondary school places for their children.

Five children from Beech Hyde Primary School in the village were left "heartbroken" when secondary school places were announced in March and they discovered they had not been allocated any of their preferred places - but instead a place at a Church of England school.

The families of the affected children have all gone through the appeals process without success and now face sending their children to Townsend School in St Albans or home tutoring.

Jo Hammond, whose 11-year-old daughter Bethany Monaghan is one of the five affected children, was hoping for a place at Sir John Lawes, Roundwood Park in Harpenden or Sandringham.

The 36-year-old told the Review: "This is a very stressful time for us. At the moment Bethany has no place in September and it is looking like she will have to stay home, which in itself isn’t an option because I am a working single mother.

"For me and the others the school we were given is unacceptable. It is a faith school and we are not religious. She has the option to opt out of the religious part by sitting outside a classroom, but why should she be punished for not being religious."

Hertfordshire County Council released figures in March showing that 20 per cent of pupils in Wheathampstead were unsuccessful in obtaining a place at any of their preferred secondary schools.

In response to the demand for secondary school places across the area Sandringham School will admit an additional 30 pupils from 2015, with 25 of those places being prioritised for pupils living in Wheathampstead.

Ms Hammond, who lives in Beech Crescent, said while that was good news it was "too little, too late" for her daughter. 

She added: "I don’t think it is too much to ask for our children to get a good education. We feel like we are not a priority and feel badly let down. Why do they keep building houses here without securing school places?

"We are helpless. My daughter keeps asking what is going on and I cannot answer."

Aniela Prendushi was also allocated Townsend school but her mother Katie Harford refused the place. Ms Harford said her daughter was "absolutely devastated".

The 43-year-old who also lives in Beech Crescent said: "I didn’t want to accept something that will make my daughter unhappy.

"We are not religious and the school is unsuitable for her. It is wrong on so many levels. The journey would take over an hour and would be done in the dark during winter. I do not want that for my child.

"It is so horrible for a parent to watch. Aniela is getting upset as all her friends buy their new uniforms and get excited about going to school together.

"No child should have to go through this. It is too much for an 11-year-old to cope with. I only have one month to sort something out.

"The worst thing is my innocent daughter is the one suffering."

Parents and supporters of the five village children who did not get place in any of their preferred secondary schools took to the streets last month to drum up support in a silent protest outside Tesco in Wheathampstead.

The families have also been helped by their county councillor Maxine Crawley and a petition started by one of the families has gained more than 600 signatures.

Tom Shipp at Hetfordshire County Council said: "Families where a child remains allocated to a non-ranked school at the end of the continuing interest process can make a new application to be considered for schools of their preference for the 2014-15 academic year. Places will continue to be offered during the summer break and into the autumn term where available to those who have made a new ‘In Year’ application.

"Of the 15 Wheathampstead children allocated a non-ranked school on secondary allocation day, only three have not been offered a school of preference. 

"One child has made an 'In Year' application for the 2014 /15 year and will be considered through the continuing interest process for any places that may become available.

"More information on the In Year admission process and an application form can be found at www.hertsdirect.org/admissions"

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