North-east education chiefs are ready to strengthen rules allowing parents to choose where to send their children to school.
The current out-of-zone policy has not been reviewed for more than a decade – and now councillors have been asked to agree new guidelines.
Hundreds of requests are made by parents every year to send their children to schools other than those for which they are zoned.
In a report prepared for members of the local authority’s education committee, the council’s director of education and children’s services Maria Walker says: “The right for parents to choose which school their children will attend is enshrined in legislation through the Parents’ Charter.
“Aberdeenshire Council has a duty to ensure that parental choice is supported wherever possible, and currently the vast majority of out-of-zone placing requests are approved.”
Currently, parents who want to send their youngsters to alternative schools must send a request form to the head teacher directly.
But under the new policy, which Ms Walker and her team have recommended the councillors back, all out-of-zone placement requests will be handled centrally to level the playing field.
The new process is aimed at ensuring parents have a better understanding of the process, the reasons for refusal and their right to appeal.
However, the proposed changes to the policy would also strengthen the council’s ability to reject requests for financial reasons.
This covers the cost of employing an additional teacher, or the bill for actually extending school buildings to increase capacity.
Parents may make an out-of-zone placement request for a variety of reasons, but the council has a strict list of conditions in which children will be given priority.
These include giving priority to families who live in Aberdeenshire, to children who wish to study subjects not offered at their local school, to families who already have a sibling at an out-of-zone school, or to “children in need” who would benefit from the placement.
The education service will recommend councillors implement the revised policy from January 2016.
Elected members will meet to discuss the proposals on Thursday.