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192 pieces to the admissions jigsaw

One result of the mass opting-out that went on in Essex during the 1990s is a chaotic admissions system. "We have 191 admissions authorities, with us as the 192nd," says Brian Catt, senior manager for planning and admissions.

Parents moving into an area expect they will easily get a place at a nearby school, but in parts of Essex that does not happen.

"At secondary level we co-ordinate 95 per cent of admissions," says Graham Ranby, who works in the same department. "That helps parents achieve their school place more quickly than otherwise . The biggest problem is that many of the GM schools removed the guarantee of a place for children within the catchment area."

In one Essex town a secondary school modified its policy so that parents living in a small pocket nearby could no longer expect to get a place there.

"We are having to look at that to find a way of including that area in another school's admissions policy," says Mr Ranby. "It leads to very delicate negotiations with all the schools concerned."

The problems are not limited to the secondary sector. Legal rulings, plus the Government's class-size guarantee, have resulted in admission difficulties at primary level.

"The biggest problem is inward migration - when a school is full at the beginning of the year and people then move into that area. There are still parents who wander along to the local school and say, 'Here's my child'."

Essex also has problems with "turbulence", the term used by admissions officers to describe the problems caused by families who move frequently or erratically.

Schools serving the army bases in Colchester can see whole classes disappear when regiments are posted. Refugees, travellers, families at risk and the homeless can also, inadvertently, contribute to a problem that can be massively disruptive for schools.

And development, particularly in the north of the county where villages have been transformed into towns, has caused populations to rise quite dramatically. In areas such as Uttlesford, wich includes Stansted Airport, the population rise is predicted to rise 14.5 per cent between 1991 and 2011. For Braintree, the figure is 12.6 per cent and for Colchester 11.7 per cent.

"We have a trigger which releases more money to schools experiencing high levels of turbulence," says Brian Catt. "Another issue is the need to provide extra places where people live. It's very difficult to anticipate birth rates in new housing developments. You expect young couples with children and suddenly you find that it's professional couples without children."

Providing enough places in this fluid situation is a question of statistical planning backed by intelligent guesswork. "I think we do a reasonable job in striking a balance," says Brian Catt.

Phil Revell

ESSEX FACT FILE: 202,110 pupils, 587 schools,10,112 teachers at a cost of pound;537m.


Population: 1,306,000

Unemployment: 4.3%

(6.1% nationally)

Employment: finance, real estate and business activities: 25.9%;

distribution, hotels and catering, repairs: 27.2%.


Council: Conservative and Independent group: 40

Labour: 24

Liberal Democrat: 14

Independent: 1

MPs: Labour: 11; Con: 10; Liberal Democrat: 1.


Pupils: 202,110

Statemented: 4,429 (2.3%)

Ethnic minorities: 3.41%

Absence (unauth): 0.61%

Free school meals: 12.3%

Teachers: 10,112 (3,064 male, 7,048 female)

Pupil:teacher ratio: 19.5:1

Classes with fewer than 30 pupils: 82.4%

Budget 2000-2001:

pound;555 million; school-related pound;537m; direct to schools pound;451m

Primary 486 schools (198 foundation, voluntary-aided or controlled)

Secondary 79 schools(foundation etc 57)

Special 21 schools (foundation etc 1)

Pupil achievement

(1997-2000: national average for 2000 in brackets)

Key Stage 2 Level 4 English: 64.2% - 76% (75)

Maths: 63.1% - 73% (72)

Science: 68.6%-84.4% (85)

GCSE:5+ A-C: 46.5%-51.4% (49.2)

1 A-G: 95.8% - 96.8% (94)

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