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Admissions system fails

Thousands left waiting for school places. Jon Slater reports

Thousands of children are still waiting to hear which secondary school they will attend in September after a failure in the Government's new co-ordinated admissions system.

Councils were supposed to send letters to parents on Tuesday but problems with the computer system have left some children without an offer of a school place while others were sent more than one.

One in 10 local authorities had problems meeting the deadline and the Government admitted it could be another two weeks before parents received an offer.

Five local authorities had not sent out letters to parents but the Government refused to name them. Another three councils, including Surrey, have sent letters to some, but not all, parents.

Wokingham council has not sent any letters because it wants all parents to receive offers at the same time, It was not confident information sent before the deadline would be accurate.

Windsor and Maidenhead, and Bracknell Forest are also affected.

The authorities now aim to send out letters by March 11.

Ministers introduced a common deadline for admissions this year to try to make the system fairer. For the first time, parents could apply for schools in different local authorities using the same form.

A Department for Education and Skills spokesman said: "More than 90 per cent of authorities issued all their offers on March 1. Of the remainder, most will be able to make most or all of their offers within the next two weeks."

Phil Willis, the Lib Dems education spokesman, said: "Given that this Government has deliberately fragmented our secondary education system, the least it could do is ensure that children get their offers of school places on time."

Mr Willis also criticised Capita's role as a "near monopoly provider" of software to local authorities.

A Capita spokeswoman said: "Our admissions software is used across the UK and has supported more than 80 authorities to meet their statutory admissions requirements this year. Only a handful of authorities have not met the deadline."

* jon.slater@tes.co.uk

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