English primary schools shrink catchment areas
As Friday night's deadline approached for parents in the UK to apply for primary school places for their children this autumn, it emerged that almost 100 schools had imposed catchment areas extending only 300 metres from their gates.
The nation's booming population has pushed classroom numbers to "crisis point", according to a report in The Times, which identified one school in Notting Hill, west London, as refusing to consider pupils living more than just 92 metres from it.
Quoting data from the online service FindASchool, The Times said the average cut-off distance for all over-subscribed primary schools in England stood at 2.3 kilometres, with 90 schools – including 39 in London and others in places such as Manchester, Birmingham and Bradford – reducing their catchment areas to 300 metres.
Mainly because of record net migration to the UK and an above-average birth rate among first generation immigrants, it is estimated that an extra 900,000 places in England alone will be needed for four-year-olds in the next decade. The Local Government Association has estimated the cost at £12 million.
Education Secretary Nicky Morgan was forced to defend the government's record in the wake of the report, saying that, while there was a "demand" for school places, more than 400,000 had been created over five years, with a further 300,000 on the way by 2020.
"Obviously schools will make their own admissions decisions, but we know there is a demand for school places," Mrs Morgan said. "We are waiting for the application rounds to finish for starting in September 2016 but we have already created over 400,000 new school places since May 2010.
"We have got plans and investment to create another over 300,000 up to the end of this decade and what we know is that parents will think very carefully about their children's school places.
"All the work we are doing in education is about making sure that there is excellence and great places everywhere and that's one of the key ways of tackling these issues."
But Ed Rushton, founder of FindASchool, told the Times, "Forty-six per cent of schools in England and two-thirds of schools in Greater London are oversubscribed – all of the schools are filling up, whether good or bad.
"It's slightly farcical to talk about having a choice. You get what is allocated. Getting your sixth choice is not really a chosen school."
It is estimated that one in eight parents will not be able to send their children to their first choice schools and the New Schools Network has released figures showing many schools had more than three times the number of first preferences as places available.
Meanwhile, the Labour Party launched an attack on the government's record claiming that more than half a million primary school children were now being taught in "super-size" classes of more than 30 pupils.
Lucy Powell, the shadow education secretary, said the rise in classroom numbers was attributable to the government's flagship 'free school' programme, arguing that the initiative to create these semi-independent institutions had made it harder for local authorities to ensure there were enough school places around the country.
"The government's obsession with free schools, at the expense of opening other types of school, has made it harder and harder to ensure there are enough school places everywhere," said Ms Powell.
"This approach is clearly not working for parents up and down the country, with the result that come national offer day, some families applying today will go straight on to a waiting list with no offer of any school place and soaring numbers of children will continue to be crammed into ever-expanding classes, as the only option left for many schools in many areas.
"The current system for planning new places is essentially broken. It is now time for the Tories to abandon their unjustified fixation with free schools, which are evidently not addressing the growing pressure on school places nor driving up standards, and once and for all, put the urgent need for sufficient good school places in every local area first."
Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, added, "The need for more school places has been known over many years. A key duty of government is to ensure there are sufficient school places and enough qualified teachers. The government has failed on both, thereby letting down children and parents.
"This situation could have been avoided by allowing councils to build schools in areas where additional school places are needed.
"The government has poured money and resources into the wasteful and indulgent free schools programme, many opening in areas where there is no need, and many providing only a small number of places at vast cost.
"The government must produce sufficient funding and powers for local authorities to open more schools as a matter of urgency."
Families relocating to, or within the UK who wish to secure a primary school school place should take note of the application deadline below. For essential information about all aspects of state and independent education and schools in the UK and across the globe, don't miss Re:locate's Guide to International Education & Schools. Click here for more details and to reserve your copy.
Deadline for applications:
Parents have until midnight, Friday 15th January, to submit applications online for primary school places.
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