National School Offer Day: Primary School Places News

The demand for primary school places is so high that parents are placing their children in attached nurseries from the age of two to try to get them into a school of their choosing.

The news comes on today's National Offer Day. Record numbers of children are expected to miss out on their first choice. Between 2012 and 2013 the number of primary school pupils grew by almost 100,000.

At least one-in-eight pupils nationally is likely to accept second, third or even fourth choice schools because of a surge in the number of applicants this year.

Around 600,000 children need school places but according to a report the extraordinary demand is forcing parents to take extreme measures to try to ensure their children get into their first-choice school.In one example, toddlers are being enrolled in school nurseries so they will be prioritised over other children when it comes to gaining a place at over-subscribed institutions.

But this effectively imposes a lower school starting age on children and discriminates against those sent elsewhere or kept at home as toddlers.

The Children's Commissioner highlighted controversial admissions practices used by schools, including giving priority to pupils placed in their own nurseries.

In a report published today, Dr Maggie Atkinson said the tactics allowed schools to cream off the brightest or wealthiest pupils and deter more troublesome youngsters.

These include charging £300 for uniforms and telling parents not to bother applying because their children wouldn't 'fit in' or failing to return phone calls to book visits.

She particularly voiced concerns over instances of primary schools 'giving preference to children who have attended their nursery provision'.

She said: "In some cases, it could be argued that using this admissions criterion imposes a de facto age of compulsory schooling for a child of two years of age, on parents who want to send their child to that school at 4, the usual age of entry to reception year.

"In addition, some of the relevant nursery provision has a paid element, which adjudicators have reasoned discriminates against those who are either unable or unwilling to pay."

Schools must allocate their places according to strict criteria rather than allowing ingratiation by parents to influence them.

But testimonies of parents interviewed for the Children's Commissioner's report suggested some schools 'potentially "game" the system by simply not being encouraging of admissions of particular groups or types of vulnerable children'.

The Department for Education insists it is allocating £5 billion over the course of this parliament to expand state primaries in England to ease the strain on demand, with 238,344 places being added between 2010 and 2013 alone.

A Department for Education spokesman said ensuring there were 'enough school places for the growing population is one of the department's top priorities'.

He said: "We have more than doubled to £5 billion the funding available to local authorities to create new school places," he said. "Nearly 80 per cent of new primary places created are in good or outstanding schools and our investment in the free schools programme is seeing 7 out of 10 new places created in areas of basic need."

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