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Locals bussed out by ballot

Philip Collins of the Social Market Foundation suggests (TES, July 30) that places at popular schools should be allocated by ballot rather than propinquity.

Whatever the merits of this in London, the expense and unhappiness caused in rural areas would be enormous.

Most Oxfordshire towns have exactly one comprehensive school serving the town and neighbouring villages. Places are now allocated by distance and if the school is oversubscribed, children from more distant villages will be bussed to the next town. If places were allocated by ballot, many children living in the town would be bussed away from their primary school friends.

These buses would have to visit and pick up small numbers of pupils in every part of the school's present catchment area.

For example, Lord Williams' school in Thame - which is on the edge of Oxfordshire - is popular with parents in Buckinghamshire who do not like Bucks' selective system.

If they thought that a ballot might get them places in a comprehensive, the number of applicants could greatly increase to, say, 50 per cent above the school's capacity. In that case, several hundred Oxfordshire children would have to be bussed to schools several miles away.

The popularity of Didcot girls' school (close to the railway line to Reading) would cause similar unhappiness and expense.

Oxfordshire County Council is encouraging every secondary school to co-operate with its feeder primary schools and to be a resource for its local community. This effort will be in vain if large numbers of its community are denied places.

Dermot Roaf

Leader, Liberal Democrats

Oxfordshire county council

County Hall

New Road

Oxford

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