Children in an outer London borough may have to attend secondary school in shifts because there will soon be too few places to meet parental demand.
A paper that Enfield Council has sent to school governors says the borough could be short of 200 secondary places in 1998 and of nearly 400 by 1999. And if the borough does not get enough funding to complete the expansion of two of its comprehensives, the shortfall could be 350 places in 1998, rising to 550 the following year.
The paper sets out a series of options for coping with the crisis, ranging from increasing class size to removing sixth forms from schools, from reintroducing catchment areas to operating two shifts: a morning and an afternoon session. This last option is not thought to have been tried in Britain but has operated in the United States and in some European countries such as Turkey.
The crisis in Enfield shows, in acute form, the plight of a number of outer London boroughs which are net importers of pupils from inner London. Last September, 14 per cent of the 3,400 pupils who transferred to Enfield's secondary schools came from outside the borough, most from neighbouring Haringey. Two-thirds of the out-of-borough pupils were offered places at either voluntary-aided schools or at one of Enfield's five grant-maintained schools.
In February, a report by the Funding Agency for Schools (FAS), said that London would need at least 10,000 and possibly more than 20,000 extra secondary-school places by 2003. Forecasts of pupil numbers for 20 out of the 33 boroughs where the agency shares or has exclusive responsibility for secondary places, suggested they would rise by up to 15 per cent over six years.
Along with Enfield, the FAS expects problems to be most acute in Bexley, Sutton and Waltham Forest.
Achilleas Georgiu, Labour chairman of Enfield's education committee, said the shortage had arisen because of the workings of parental preference backed up by the Greenwich judgment of 1989, which ruled that LEAs could not give priority to their own residents. Labour has promised not to overturn the judgment. Enfield has been handicapped in its attempt to provide more places by inadequate capital allocations. In 1997-98, it bid for nearly Pounds 23 million and was allocated just over Pounds 71Z2m.
While outer London boroughs struggle to meet parental demand, in inner London places lie empty. "We need a body to take a strategic view of education in London," Mr Georgiu said, "to sort out the effects of the legislation by the previous Government. There are very good schools in inner London and we need to make them attractive to local parents."
The Enfield paper, on which governors have been asked to comment by the end of term, raises the possibility of creating partial catchment areas for some schools that would "enhance the traditional links that some areas have with a particular school". But it recognises the difficulties this would create with the single admissions policy the borough runs in co-operation with its GM schools, which does not use catchment areas for any schools.