Met with Labour Council Leader George Meehan first thing. George says there shouldn’t be a problem for the 200 children without secondary school places as they will start to diminish as the choices get made and the places get filled. But only one in five children in Haringey got their first or second choice – and I remain concerned that not getting those choices mean that the Government’s ‘choice’ agenda is meaningless. Instead of getting the schools they have chosen, children and parents end up with schools that are far away across multiple bus journeys and which were put at or near the bottom of their list of choices. That’s not choice.
I remember one particular woman who came to see me at my surgery whose daughter had gone to a local primary school in Highgate. All the other kids from her block of flats had been accepted to one particular secondary school – and only this child had not. The girl instead had to go to a school that was near the bottom of the list of her choices and a difficult journey away; the girl was then (as the mother had feared) bullied and was now at home refusing to go to school through fear.
Perhaps if the schools published a map with dots on showing where all the children who get in come from (with an asterisk for special needs as they come from outside catchments) then we could all see for ourselves how ‘fair’ the system is and how far children are having to go if they don’t get their first or second choices. At the moment, there remains the suspicion that despite efforts to get it right, miscarriages of justice occur. The system needs to be fair and seen to be fair. Transparency and publication might help our confidence in the system.
Other topics I covered with George were on the use of the voluntary sector, the ‘restructuring’ of the library service; what Haringey Council is proposing to do following my discovery that both HIV infection and alcohol-related deaths in the borough are up substantially and also why my surgery poster is not allowed in schools!