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Let me move on to the situation in Watford. It would not be right for me to discuss that individual case in great detail, and I do not think that it is appropriate for me to comment on the adjudicator’s judgment. My understanding from what the hon. Gentleman has said
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and from other discussions that I have had is that parents feel aggrieved because my hon. Friend the Minister for Schools and Learners agreed at a public meeting in 2006 that parents’ reasonable expectations about admission arrangements should not be changed midway through the process.

As far as I am aware, my hon. Friend made no mention of the rather unusual arrangement for the cross-sibling rule at the meeting simply because he was not aware of it. I understand that he gave an undertaking, in all good faith, that parents who had children already at the school and therefore had a reasonable expectation that their younger children would follow should not be disadvantaged. He delivered on that commitment in the transitional arrangement to which I referred earlier.

Mr. Gauke: Surely the point that the Minister for Schools and Learners was making was that

That is the principle, and it applies to the cross-sibling situation as well as elsewhere. People did not know what the situation would be in 2008 and their perception was that their younger children would have priority, but now that has been removed.

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: My hon. Friend the Minister for Schools and Learners could not have been expected to give a commitment on a rule that he was not aware existed. As far as he was concerned, he was referring to the sibling rule, and he was not even aware that a cross-sibling rule existed.

My understanding of the determination by the adjudicator in respect of the Watford schools is that it has not changed the position for parents who had an older child on-roll at the same school before 2008. However, it has ended the practice of giving priority to
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children who have an older brother or sister at the other school, and this practice was not covered by the transitional arrangement in the code. As the hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire has stated, the Secretary of State has no powers to overturn the adjudicator’s decision. That can be done only by the courts.

However, as I said earlier, we have been consulting on improvements to the schools admission code for 2010 onwards. Following discussions with my hon. Friend the Member for Watford, I understand that, due to the determination of this case coming soon after the consultation on a revised code ended on 2 October, some parents felt that they had missed the opportunity to contribute to the consultation. Given the circumstances, I would welcome any comments that they have, and I will consider any responses from them, provided that my Department receives them by the 15 November. I hope that the hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire will welcome that extension to the consultation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Watford has also asked specifically that, as part of the consultation, I consider extending the transitional arrangements to cross-siblings as well as siblings from 2010 onwards. The hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire also mentioned that in his contribution, and I can say that I will consider the matter, although I can make no commitments at this stage. In any case, of course, an extension would not apply to those parents with children who are due to enter school in September 2009.

To conclude, I believe that the schools adjudicators play a crucial part in ensuring that the school admissions system is equitable, so that parents stand the greatest chance of receiving a place for their child at one of their preferred schools. I am sure that the hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire will continue to support all local parents in his constituency to ensure that they have a strong voice in the debate as it continues.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at six minutes past midnight.

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