Mum expresses shock after twins denied places at Catmose College

Julia Smith with her twin sons Josh and Dan Bland, both 10

Julia Smith with her twin sons Josh and Dan Bland, both 10

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The mother of twin boys has described her frustration after they were denied a place at the same secondary school as their classmates.

Julia Smith and her husband Ian Bland sent their sons Josh and Dan Bland, both 10, to Langham Primary School in the knowledge that it had long been a feeder to Catmose College in Oakham.

The boys, now in Year 6, picked Catmose as their first choice for September 2013 and expected to be given places there along with all their classmates.

But Julia, 51, of Main Street, Market Overton, was amazed when she got a letter saying her sons had been refused a place at the school.

She said: “I couldn’t believe it. I was stunned.

“I was expecting it to be Catmose because it had always taken pupils from Langham.

“The boys have lived in Market Overton all their lives and it was always their expectation to go there.”

Catmose, which became an academy in April last year, was oversubscribed and had to turn down 86 applications for September this year.

And while Langham Primary School has traditionally been 
a feeder for Catmose, the school’s admission policy changed last year.

After a consultation with parents and primary schools, the policy was altered to give higher preference to children with a sibling at the school or who has attended within the last five years.

Preference is now given first for any special educational needs, second for a sibling link, third for pupils at Catmose Primary, which is federated with the secondary school, fourth for a child of staff and fifth for distance from the school.

Mrs Smith said she had not been fully aware of the consultation but, even so, thought it was not right that her children, who live just over six miles from Catmose College, should be given less preference than children from places like Melton Mowbray, almost 10 miles away.

In total 75 children, or 42 per cent of the September 2013 cohort of 180, were given a place based on a sibling link, while 74 were given places based on distance.

She added: “We are in the middle of a community and everyone else is moving forward apart from us. The boys are the only two in their class who applied and didn’t get in.

“We feel betrayed by the whole system. It’s not fair.”

Mrs Smith and her husband have appealed the decision but in the meantime their sons are looking at the prospect of going to Casterton Business and Enterprise College, 11 miles away.

Dan said: “I know we would make new friends but I would rather go to Catmose because I want to stay with my friends.

And Josh added: “Our friends thought it was awful. We have been with them for ages and now we are going to be split up.

“We don’t usually see our friends outside school because we don’t live near them.”

Principal of Catmose College Stuart Williams said he sympathised with the family and was sorry to have to turn any child away from the school.

But he said in the long term the new policy would ensure that pupils living closest to the school would have priority.

He added: “In the past we have taken pupils from up to 20 miles away but that has become harder and harder as our popularity has increased.

“The difficulty this year was that we had a large number of siblings. This is an unusual year.

“This will become less of an issue as the distance policy works through and we will increasingly be taking the children who live closest.

“It is difficult and parents rightly get very passionate about it.”

Mr Williams said the reason for changing the policy was to stop parents who lived a long way away from the school using the previous primary school feeder system to secure a place at Catmose.

He said by removing that and focusing on sibling links and distance, the school would be able to cope with the increasing population of Oakham.

Mr William added: “It is always my intent to be open and transparent and believe on this occasion we went above and beyond the statutory requirements of the consultation process in order to ensure the admissions policy best reflects our community’s views.

“The fact that the college is oversubscribed reflects its success and popularity and by only accepting 180 children in each year group, we will be able to sustain the excellent provision that makes us so attractive to so many parents.

“We also recognise however, how disappointed parents and their children will be who have not gained a place.”

Mr Williams said the school had been oversubscribed for four years now and plans to expand were in the pipeline.

He added: “I know how difficult it is. But I also have to make sure I am looking after the children we already have and when we are accepting children to the school we have to do it in a fair and reasonable way.”

The colleges current and previous admissions policies can be read in full at www.catmosecollege.com/admissions