A fragmented secondary transfer system has left more than 550 children in south-west Hertfordshire without places after three rounds of offers because the area's schools are massively over-subscribed.
Parents from Watford, Potters Bar and Borehamwood say their children have been put under unacceptable pressure by a system which allows high-flyers to hold several offers while others have none. The area's problem is acute because 10 of its 13 secondary schools are grant-maintained and act as independent admissions authorities.
Michael Waller, co-founder of Watford and South Herts parents' group, said:
"People who have not experienced it cannot imagine the distress and despair when your child is rejected over and over again. Children are taking half-a-dozen entrance exams and being made to feel like complete failures".
Now Hertfordshire council has called on GM heads to work within a co-ordinated transfer system that would ensure children drop out of the process as soon as they are made an offer.
A spokeswoman said: "If the GM schools cannot agree we will approach the Secretary of State and ask him to impose a scheme. That will ensure that every child will be offered a place next February for entry in September 1999."
But heads have reservations about the authority's proposal, to allow parents to apply to three schools in order of preference, which they say would limit choice.
While they admit the present system is traumatic, headteachers say most parents are satisfied at the end of the process.
Hugh Forsyth, head at Rickmansworth School which received more than three applications per place this year, believes the plan would create new problems. "Many of our schools are so over-subscribed that second or third choices would never be considered. Parents would be gambling with their first choice," he said.