Underprovision of primary places and impact of faith selection

(38 Posts)
Heathclif Mon 02-Sep-13 22:25:14

RISC have just brought out a report which highlights the pressure on primary school places in several areas of the borough and especially where faith-based admissions to local church primary schools are significantly restricting the choices available to non-churchgoing parents. www.richmondinclusiveschools.org.uk/latest-news/report-on-2013-primary-school/

I find this particularly depressing since fifteen years ago we were two of those parents with no school place for our child, and experienced the break up of the local community that had grown up in Sheen in anti natal groups, toddler groups and nursery school as those who could afford it moved or went private (we did both), or parents were left to worry until allocated a school place, often far away.

It is hard to believe that the Council has not only continued with it's strategy of lagging provision behind demand in order to ensure it has no spare places (even though the government policy is that Councils should have 5% spare capacity to help ensure parents have a choice of local primary school, particularly important where local faith schools select on faith and further restrict the choice of local school places for parents who do not meet the selection criteria) but that the understandable desperation of anxious parents has led to a sharp increase in demand for faith school places in schools that give priority to parents who fulfil their faith criteria. The result is that parents who live in certain areas who are not of certain faiths, find their choices further limited.

How do other parents feel about this? What are your experiences? Feel free to vent. It is rumoured that certain Officers in the Education Department read these threads wink Who knows it may jog someone's conscience to actually do something about this unfairness and discrimination.

JustMoved2013 Tue 03-Sep-13 10:29:53

Thanks for the information. Very interesting to know that this is not a new thing. I spoke with some Councillors and they claimed it is a new problem due to unexpected high demand.... I moved in July and my daughter does not have a place yet. We live 450 meters away from SMSP in teddington but it looks like we will not get a place in any of the 5 schools of teddington. after reading an article in the Richmond and Twickenham Times (http://www.richmondandtwickenhamtimes.co.uk/news/10644349.Crunch_time_for_schools_places_with_demand_at_all_time_high/?ref=mr) I actually called the journalist to let her know of our situation as well. the name and number are at the end of the article. I am not sure whether it will matter or not, probably not, but I suggest everyone with a sad story on admission to contact this person. What makes me mad is that the people at the council (no matter which political side they are) find this very normal and inevitable, like we lived in the best of all possible worlds and we cannot do anything about this.

Beechtreemum Tue 03-Sep-13 10:46:36

I think councils get lazy about providing enough places if there are spare places in neighbouring boroughs. They know it is not far for people to travel when it is an urban area. A lot of the faith schools will not want to expand as it may mean going from a 30 place intake to 45. This is a class and a half and leads to mixed age classes that some schools do not want. Councils such as Richmond find it difficult to plan for demand as lots of people go private. They only have past information to go on but obviously this can vary as people's incomes fluctuate. Faith schools complicate the picture due to their selection policy but is it possible for the other schools to expand? Do they have room? Or, is a whole new school needed. I think Councils do need to look again at under provision for children in some areas. Unfortunately the Governement will expect parents to do it themselves - ie a free school. This is just abdicating their responsibility and it keeps the Councils poor because money is being taken from them to pay for these schools, which in some areas, are not needed. As usual, it's a mess!

BayJay2 Tue 03-Sep-13 10:49:43

Hi JustMoved. For reference RISC recorded quite a lot of comments from parents here when the offers were first made back in April. Since then a lot of them may have got places, so its hard to know how many people are still waiting to be placed. The family in the RTT article were offered something 5km away (presumably Buckingham) but turned it down. If you haven't been offered anything at all then it implies there are no places anywhere, so there must be others in the same boat as you.

Sometimes people don't turn up on the first day of term, so you may be in luck.

Presumably you're being treated as a 'late applicant'? Late applicants are fairly hidden in the reporting system. The council measures its success based on whether it can place all its 'on time' applicants by September.

BayJay2 Tue 03-Sep-13 11:09:47

Beechtreemum: "I think councils get lazy about providing enough places if there are spare places in neighbouring boroughs."

I think our neighbouring boroughs' schools are just as oversubscribed. The council has a responsibility to offer everyone in its own borough a place. I think if boroughs could coordinate a little more it might help, at least at secondary level. However, people want primaries close to home, so they can make local friends and, if possible, walk to school.

"A lot of the faith schools will not want to expand as it may mean going from a 30 place intake to 45"

That's the same for community schools too - it is awkward to create a bulge class if the numbers are small.

"Councils such as Richmond find it difficult to plan for demand as lots of people go private"

Some people feel forced to go private because they can't get a place close to home. Of course, they can only do that if they can afford to, but does that make it any better? Is the system propping up the private sector?

I know a family in Twickenham who were offered a far-flung place in 2011. They went private instead, but stayed on local waiting lists until they eventually got a state place in the summer term of Year 1. Others (like Heathcliff?) presumably stay in the private sector once their children are settled.

"but is it possible for the other schools to expand?"

They have done, massively. Stanley is now 4 form entry, and Collis is rumoured to be under pressure to go the same way. All the community primaries have been expanded in recent years. They just can't keep up.

"Or, is a whole new school needed."

Two primary free schools are opening this month in the borough - one in Mortlake and the other in Hampton. Neither was oversubscribed, but they are both now presumably full (since we know there are people without places).

A group called GEMS put in a primary free school application for Twickenham/Teddington, to be opened in 2014, but it was turned down. They may try again.

tw11mum Tue 03-Sep-13 11:10:40

@JustMoved2013: we were in a similar position to you last year, we moved to Teddington in June 2012 after the January registration deadline and the only place that they had available was in Sacred Heart Catholic (because they were required by the council to add an extra class in Reception 2012). I have to say the school is lovely, gets excellent results, and we were really happy in Reception with the teacher. We are still on the wait list for a regular community school though, because we are not Catholic and long term I just don't see us in a Catholic school.

On your situation, speak with the Council and/or with Sacred Heart right away. There are many non-Catholic kids in year 1 (this current year 1) at Sacred Heart and I do believe they have a place available. You can remain on other school's wait lists if you wish, even if you accept the SH place.

BayJay2 Tue 03-Sep-13 11:23:59

Sorry Justmoved. Just read in another thread that its a Y1 place you're looking for rather than a Reception place, so the 'Late Applicant' stuff isn't relevant. You will be part of the "In year admissions" process.

It's worth checking with local church schools how they operate their waiting lists for in-year transfers. For instance, if they prioritise faith applicants for their main intake, do they do the same for their in-year transfers too? That process can be a bit opaque when places are essentially coming up one at a time as people move away.

muminlondon2 Tue 03-Sep-13 11:32:35

GEMS was turned down by the government to sponsor a primary school in Wokingham despite being nominated by the local council - the government instead approved a local secondary school converter academy as sponsor.

GEMS is not included on a list of approved academy sponsors published by the government. They manage private schools in the UK but they pulled out of an academy sponsorship in 2005 after some bad publicity.


Beechtreemum Tue 03-Sep-13 12:16:12

I think you may think I was making excuses for inactivity and poor planning by the Borough. I was not and I agree that they do have a responsibility. I was just raising a few points which can be used as excuses for inactivity. At the moment funding for new schools is very tight as it is being diverted to free schools. I totally disagree with this policy but are you likely to get Gove to change? I think not. Planning schools is highly politicised now and it is a joke to think that it provides choice. As you have found it can do the opposite. I think people do, totally reasonably, expect a local school. What are local Councillors saying about their school provision policy? On the other hand,some people travel miles to get what t hey consider to be the best school. Unless the Council actually make sensible plans, quickly,to address the situation, there will be continued dissatisfaction. What is the local MP doing? Have they not heard of temporary classrooms?

JustMoved2013 Tue 03-Sep-13 12:23:01

Local Councillors just accept the situation. I contacted all the Teddington ones and they all think that nothing can be done. I will make sure I will not vote for any of these (in particular for the one that did not even answer to my email). I strongly believe that changing the assignment rules would already solve a good fraction of the problems.

muminlondon2 Tue 03-Sep-13 12:27:05

I don't make excuses for the council either but there have been 21 new classes added (the equivalent of 10 schools) in the last 12 years not counting temporary bulge classes. So disingenuous to say the council has been doing nothing. I also think the free school policy is not directing resources to the right places although the two new primaries may relieve some pressure in Richmond. I think it has a short shelf life as a policy - but by 2015 election who knows who will take over.

Bulge classes make things worse because there are more siblings in the following year or two and catchments do weirdly unpredictable things resulting in people caught between two popular schools not getting a place. Permanent expansions involve a lot of building, planning and disruption and community residents don't like them either. New schools sound wonderful but sites are expensive in an area where homes cost £2,000+.

I think it's misleading to think there is a quick and easy solution - every year the council tries to chip away at the problem and new Ofsted reports change the situation instantly. But it takes two years even just to expand a school by class.

muminlondon2 Tue 03-Sep-13 12:31:05

By 'the assignment rules' do you mean allocation of places? Because this is governed by things like the case law (Greenwich ruling from 20 years ago), national legislation and the Schools Admissions Code. To be realistic, the council cannot change very much, including faith school policies, apart from looking at the sibling priority for community schools - but there are always howls of protests against removing these.

BayJay2 Tue 03-Sep-13 12:39:38

Beechtreemum, I'm guessing you're not local?

The problem that the RISC report is highlighting isn't primarily the overall number of places (which approximately equals the number of applicants that are still in the system), but the type of places and their distribution.

Richmond has generally been supportive of free schools (interest declaration: I'm involved in a secondary free school). The two primary free schools that are opening this week are both fully inclusive, and there's no reason to believe they won't be popular and successful. People understand the free school policy is the only game in town at the moment when it comes to providing new places, so they have got on with making sure any new places provided via that route are appropriately tailored to local demand.

"What is the local MP doing?"
As it says in the report, the local MP is calling for local faith schools to be more community minded in their admissions.

tw11mum Tue 03-Sep-13 12:40:02

Well they could drop the faith selection criteria for all state-funded school. Some Canadian provinces did that...

BayJay2 Tue 03-Sep-13 12:49:55

"Well they could drop the faith selection criteria for all state-funded school."

The faith school admissions policies are the responsibility of school governing bodies rather than the council. However, the council can let it be known that they would like church schools to make their admissions policies more inclusive. That is what RISC are arguing for I think, as well as aiming to appeal directly to governing bodies' sense of moral duty.

Beechtreemum Tue 03-Sep-13 13:19:49

No I am not local, but I am not a fan of faith schools not taking children who live near them. We have the same problem here and it totally messes up the community. However, just heard Gove on radio 5 saying it is all Labour's fault. So since 2010, he has pursued his own policies without taking into account where school places are needed and then blames the previous Government. Free schools are not being approved in areas of need, but where people have expertise and want to do their own thing. This does not give a choice to people who live in an area with no school places. Sorry to have intruded on a local debate. Thought it was open to everyone.

BayJay2 Tue 03-Sep-13 13:27:18

"Thought it was open to everyone"

It is, and I wasn't meaning that you weren't welcome. But there's a lot of history and context to our local educational landscape, so you're at a disadvantage trying to follow it all.

Oblomov Tue 03-Sep-13 13:29:58

Saw your thread and hope you don't mind me hijacking.
We live Junction 11 of M25 (sure you get the jist, without me naming places).
I was on a MN thread in about April, where they predicted that SW London and Surrey would have 750,000 shortage of school places. I found that huge figure hard to comprehend, but I am sure it is probably about right.
Ds2 starts next week. Ds1 is already there. I know you will hate it when I tell you that we attend a faith school.

But don't blame faith schools too much. There is obviously a huge shortage. Not just faith related, or not just related to faith school issue.
This is really a huge problem, and I have no idea how it can be addressed.

Our faith school, last year, had 18, regularly attending catholics, who had lived here for years, NOT get their child in. They were not happy.

This year. We have taken a bulge class, which ds2 will be part of. I am not happy. Used to be lovely layout. 2 classes of 30 for every year, R, Yr1, Yr2, etc. All the classrooms stayed the same. Everyone knew what was what.
Now the 60 children, become 90, we have an additional/temporary classroom. Changes the whole dynamics of the school. There is nothing I can do about it.

Many other schools locally have already been requested to take a bulge class. Last year, this year and next years, they have been asked to do so. We do have a shortage of school places, across the board, clearly.

We also, to add to the problem, have a large increase, so I am told, facts, actual statistics, of influx of nationals - Asia, Poland, South American, and probably just about every other country. Many of them catholics. Many work at the local hospitals.

So our local schools, both faith and non faith are going to continue to put under a lot of pressure.

It all seems such a mess. And I have no idea how to address these issues. Just wanted to post my sympathy and understanding.
I realises that the original post was about the injustice of faith places. But you do of course realsie that the faith issue is just one part, because there is a HUGE shortage generally.

BayJay2 Tue 03-Sep-13 13:38:57

"there is a HUGE shortage generally"

There is, which is why "parental preference" is a luxury that can't necessarily be afforded. When there's a lot of competition for places, giving some people advantage over others on the basis that they attend church is simply not right.

Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign (RISC) have always made it clear that they are not against church schools per se, but against the ring-fencing of places at those schools. That's why they're asking for admissions policies to be opened up.

They're aligned with the Fair Admissions Campaign which argues for the same thing nationally, so those of you who are reading this from outside Richmond might be interested in checking it out.

Oblomov Tue 03-Sep-13 13:52:33

Is there, in Richmond, there is a lack of faith applicants?
Our school in previous years have accepted non catholic applicants. But those days are long gone. As I said, last year the admissions were 100% catholic and 18 catholics were on the waiting list.

muminlondon2 Tue 03-Sep-13 14:30:51

BayJay, you are right to separate the issues of shortage of places generally from faith school admission policies. I also think RISC should seek practical change rather than argument for argument's sake in schools more receptive to change.

We know it's always been the tradition for Catholic schools to prioritise Catholics and St Richard Reynold's primary admissions policy is something of a departure. Out of six Catholic schools, all oversubscribed, four are single-form entry and half of them had more than the statutory 30 children per class in reception last year - one being St James's. I think people are a bit weary of confrontation in this community.

It's worth starting by asking the larger CofE schools as there is a more general tradition of open admissions, they may be undersubscribed on faith admissions but still popular so it would just be formalising existing patterns, and in some areas they are the only provision in that area: e.g. St Mary's and St Peter's, Archdeacon Cambridge, and perhaps Queen's.

Heathclif Tue 03-Sep-13 16:32:36

muminlondon This report is focused on the impact of faith selection in a situation where school places are under huge pressure, and rightly highlighting how this even further limits the choices of parents who are unable to meet the selection criteria (those of other faiths or no faith) which is unfair.

However the school place issue is still an issue and underpins the problem. The fact is that it is a by product of the Councils long term strategy to plan for no risk of spare places which inevitably means that there is a risk (actually pretty much a certainty since it happens every year) of under provision. The Council however has always left parents to bear the consequence when that risk is realised. Fifteen years ago there were 60 families at the Sheen end of the borough without school places, I don't know what the numbers are this year. Then the minutes of the Admission Forum made it explicit that only one extra class was planned because by siting it in a distant unpopular school it was anticipated that it was unlikely more than half the parents would take up the offer, in fact less than half did. They wouldn't make that thinking explicit now but the strategy is clearly still in place. It is a deterrent strategy that relies on parents moving or going private. Each year they come out with the excuses about unforeseen demand, when in planning terms you should have long term contingency to deal with the risk of increased demand, especially when it is a long term trend. You really can't defend failing to spot the rise in demand for a period of at least 15 years. Fifteen years ago there was a site and plans in place for a school at Kew Riverside that had it been built would have met the demand amongst for places for those 60 children, however it was delayed for several more years in spite of continued pressure for a new local school.

You and I know that year after year they tell parents like justmoved that it is a surprise, that a new black hole has emerged they didn't forsee, whether it is Sheen, Hampton, Teddington and now Twickenham relying on parents not to know the history.

Given that parents have become increasingly aware of the situation it is hardly surprising if they look around for alternative ways of securing school places. Fifteen years ago St Osmunds, St Mary Magdalin, Queens, Holy Trinity in the Sheen area were all well undersubscribed on faith places. Now with the exception of Holy Trinity they are amongst the most oversubscribed on faith places in the borough.

LProsser Tue 03-Sep-13 17:10:37

Just to add that Teddington has a long term problem and it definitely isn't a new thing. In the year in which we applied for a first child reception place in Teddington back in 2005 there was a shortage and large numbers of children were offered places in Heathfield which is not at all accessible by public transport from Teddington. Eventually most found places in Teddington schools, but some had to go elsewhere and switch once vacancies came up. Since then Stanley, Hampton Wick and SMSP have expanded and Collis and Sacred Heart have taken bulge classes but there still aren't enough places. The religious entry requirements for SMSP definitely have an effect as it takes children from outside Teddington, particularly Hampton, pushing out much more local children. More local places would be available if SMSP had an inclusive admissions policy based on distance and the children who travel there from Hampton went to Buckingham instead. Two of the Teddington councillors are a couple with a child who is about three so I expect they will take this perennial problem a bit more seriously when their child's year comes! It is worth keeping on at them as it will help to make school place shortages a priority issue for the Council which it doesn't seem to be at present, but the Teddington councillors are all Lib Dems (Council is run by the Conservatives) so they have very little influence.

muminlondon2 Tue 03-Sep-13 17:24:38

Heathclif you obviously had a difficult time 15 years ago and I'm sorry for that. What is difficult to predict are the number of people moving in and out of an area, and Richmond is a very attractive borough for newcomers. I have particular sympathy for those with a longstanding connection to the area who are less mobile so are losing out on unpredictably fluctuating catchment areas - e.g. they are in social housing, or have a mortgage but can't afford the next move. It's very difficult when school place allocation is purely on distance. But on the other hands, standards are so high in this borough and benefit from the attendance of children of well-educated parents from all over the world.

The BBC article on place shortages suggests that all LAs have to juggle a number of balls:

-population predictions
-schools' ability to expand
-building space
-mobility of the local population
-parental choice
-inaccurate statistics on birth rate.

'The juggler was, in effect, tossed a number of extra balls which made the feat even more challenging.

And with the rapid expansion of the academy and free school programme, a second juggler in the form of the Secretary of State - who is responsible for approving such schools - got in on the act.

It is hardly surprising that in some places the the balls appear to have fallen to the floor, leaving many schools struggling to cope with too many pupils.'

muminlondon2 Tue 03-Sep-13 17:26:33

And LProsser it is a good place to start with SMSP because it is a large school with a big influence on admission patterns yet not oversubscribed on faith places so it can't justify refusing to budge on its policy.

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