Capital confusion over admissions

22nd April 2005 at 01:00
But Birmingham successfully places most pupils in schools of their choice, reports Dorothy Lepkowska

Tens of thousands of pupils across the country have not got a place in a secondary school of their choice for September, new figures revealed this week.

An estimated 70,000 youngsters are without a school place, or have been allocated one they don't want.

The figure will be embarrassing for Labour in the run-up to the election, after it promised parents a good secondary school for every child and co-ordinated admissions procedures to make the system more equitable.

London is one of the worst-affected areas, despite the introduction of a sophisticated database which was supposed to match children to a suitable school.

Reading, Wokingham, Buckinghamshire, Surrey and Shropshire are among those known to have also been affected with computer problems. However, Birmingham said it had given 89 per cent of primary children to a secondary place of their choice.

In the capital up to 10,000 youngsters have been refused their chosen schools and about 3,500 have no place at all.

For schools, it means weeks of appeals hearings, costing thousands of pounds in paperwork and additional staff.

Problems with allocations should have been relieved this year after the introduction of the pan-London admissions system. Parents listed six schools, and councils entered the choices into a London-wide database.

A pioneering software package, designed by the IT company Capita, was to have matched pupils to their highest choice available. But have been left some pupils with several places and others with none.

Capita has blamed Arete, the company that provides the computer "hub", the pan-London Register, that enables councils to share information on places and applications, saying its system had failed.

Tony Brown, managing director of Arete, said: "As far as we are aware the pan-London Register worked exactly as it was supposed to. For whatever reason eight authorities were not able to join the system. Those eight authorities were all using Capita software."

The chaos in London emerged as figures from the Advisory Centre for Education charity showed that the number of calls for help from parents over admissions had almost doubled.

More than 45 per cent of the 500 enquiries last month were from families where a child had no place for September, a rise from 26 per cent last year.

But education officials in Birmingham said this week they had met their target for admissions, with almost nine out of 10 being awarded one of their six choices.

Of the 15,291 pupils who sent in their application by the deadline, 9,678, or 63 per cent, got their first choice secondary school and 1,832, or 12 per cent, their second choice.

Only 950, or 6 per cent of children, have been provisionally allocated a place at the school they do not want to attend. A spokeswoman said: "In these cases they did not meet the criteria for any of their preferred schools." Margaret Morrissey, of the National Confederation of Parent-Teacher Associations, said Birmingham's success rate was amazing.

"If a city of that size can do it, I don't see why other areas can't," she said.

* dorothy.lepkowska@tes.co.uk

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