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Thousands miss out on school place


Some children effectively begin their schooling at the age of two as parents jostle to secure a primary school place, research suggests.

Some children effectively begin their schooling at the age of two as parents jostle to secure a primary school place, research suggests.

Some children effectively begin their schooling at the age of two as parents jostle to secure a primary school place, research suggests.

Almost one in seven children have missed out on their first choice of primary school amid a continuing squeeze on places, it has been revealed.

Hundreds of thousands of families across the country have been learning which school their child will be attending from this September, in the first ever primary National Offer Day.

Early figures indicate that a child's chances of getting their top choice depend heavily on where they live, with almost all getting their first preference in some places, and more than a third missing out in others.

A survey conducted by the Press Association, based on responses from more than 50 councils, found that nationally, 86.99% of four-year-olds have won a place at their first preference school this year.

But this means that 13.01% - almost one in seven youngsters - have missed out.

Councils and schools have been facing an increasing squeeze on places, particularly for primary-age children in recent years, caused partly by a rising birth rate and the impact of immigration.

Earlier, one teachers' leader warned that England is facing a "growing crisis" in primary school places.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), accused Education Secretary Michael Gove of relieving himself of his first key responsibility - to provide school places for the nation's children.

Government reforms, which have made it increasingly difficult for councils to open schools that are not free schools or academies, have fuelled a crisis in places, she argued.

"We know that there is a growing crisis in primary school places and we know that the Government, for all the money they say they are throwing at the problem, they simply haven't got the mechanism, they haven't got the ability, to plan school provision where it's needed," Dr Bousted said.

"They have divested themselves of the levers to manage this situation.

"As soon as they prevented local authorities from building primary schools and they left it to the market, to free school providers and academy sponsors they've come across two main problems.

"The first is that there's not been any national place planning. Local authorities say that despite the extra money, there isn't enough money, and because of the land prices, it's very difficult for free schools to get established.

"The biggest problems that free schools have is finding a place for the school."

She added: "It's no surprise that there's a crisis in primary school places, because the Secretary of State, Michael Gove, has divested himself of his first key responsibility, which is to provide school places for children. He's divested himself of his second key responsibility which is to put qualified teachers in front of those children.

"Whatever you think of the rest of his policies, those, to me, seem to be two quite big catastrophes for our nation's children and young people."

The Department for Education (DfE) said it has given councils more than £5 billion to establish new school places, with more than 260,000 created already.

Individual council figures suggests that many have received more applications this year from parents for primary school places compared to last year.

At the same time, the data also indicates that in some areas, fewer pupils are getting their first choice of place, compared to 2013.

In Rutland, around 97% of children got their first choice of primary, along with 96.7% in Doncaster and 96.97% in North East Lincolnshire.

But at the other end of the scale, almost two fifths missed out in the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea, where 61.6% got their top preference.

A DfE spokesman said: "We are increasing the number of good school places by tackling underperformance and opening new free schools and academies. We have also more than doubled to £5 billion the funding available to councils to create new school places, and are allowing good schools to expand without the restrictions and bureaucracy they faced in the past.

"This has already led to the creation of 260,000 new school places - all of which are in areas where there is a shortage of places, while seven out of 10 new places created under the free schools programme are in areas of basic need. Thanks to our reforms, the number of children in failing secondary schools has already fallen by a quarter of a million since 2010."

Figures published by the Pan London Admissions Board showed that across the capital, almost one in five (19%) of children did not get their top preference school.

In total, 92% of pupils in London offered one of their top three preferences.

Chair of the Pan London Admissions Board Helen Jenner said: "The London-wide system ensures parental preferences for primary schools and available school places are distributed in the fairest way. The system managed a record 102,441 primary applications and 81% have received an offer from a school of their preference.

"The London admissions system is very proficient but not all parents can be offered their first preference. It cannot create places in schools that are already at capacity."