01/03/2018 00:02 GMT

Secondary School Places: Union Argues The Government Is 'Failing' To Guarantee Enough First Choice Placements

'For too many, there will be huge disappointment.'

As families find out which secondary schools their children have been allocated today [Thursday 1 March], a school leaders’ union is arguing the government is not fulfilling a “basic duty of care” for pupils who have missed out on a place at the school of their choice.

Parents have been sent a letter with the decision about their child’s school place, but some may be disappointed with the allocation. 

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said this will always be a problem until the government comes up with a national strategy to guarantee there are enough desirable school places, by investing in schools.

“For too many, there will be huge disappointment,” he said. “In some parts of the country, it will mean children having to travel long distances to go to secondary school or being separated from their peers. Last year alone, almost 93,000 young people missed out on the school which was their first preference.”

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Whiteman said he believes this is an issue which isn’t go to go away, adding that an increase in pupil numbers over the next few years, particularly at secondary age, will only make it harder. 

He argued that despite local authorities being responsible for ensuring sufficient school places, the powers and resources necessary for them to do so have been removed.

“They are unable to require academies to expand, for example,” he explained. “In an increasingly fragmented school system we lack a co-ordinated approach to place planning. Instead it’s haphazard; decisions are being made in isolation and new schools and new school places are not always being commissioned in the areas they are most needed.

“The government’s own figures show that an extra 654,000 school places will be needed in England by 2026, to meet the 9% rise in pupil population. There is a desperate need for long-term planning that spans all sectors. Schools are facing a £3bn shortfall in funding by 2019, with 98% set to be worse off at a time when costs are rising and pupil numbers are growing.”

Suggesting a solution, Whiteman added that until someone at local or regional level has the information and ability to prioritise school places where they are most needed, parents and kids will always be unsure that the system will give them what they want. 

HuffPost UK contacted the Department for Education for comment. In response, they sent a quote from school standards minister Nick Gibb: We are raising standards across the country so that every child can go to a good school where they are taught the knowledge and skills they need for future success and we’re investing £5.8 billion to create even more good school places. This builds on the 735,000 places we’ve created since 2010 – meaning nine out of ten pupils get one of their top three choices of schools.” 

Appealing a school place:

You can appeal the decision if you are unhappy with the school your child has been allocated. The government website states your appeal may be successful if: 

:: The admission arrangements haven’t been properly followed.

:: The admission criteria aren’t legal according to the school admissions appeal code.

:: The decision to refuse your child a place wasn’t reasonable. 

Parents are advised to contact Coram Children’s Legal Centre who may be able to help you prepare your appeal.

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