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Primary-school places shortfall: what's happening where you live?

(217 Posts)
HelenMumsnet (MNHQ) Fri 15-Mar-13 10:16:39


It's headline news today that one in five primary schools are now full or near capacity.

And, with 240,000 new primary-school places needed for 2014, the National Audit Office is saying the Department of Education "faces a real challenge... there are indications of strain on school places".

We were wondering how you all feel about this? Do you have a child due to start primary school in September? Are you aware of a shortage of places in your area? What steps are your local council taking to make school places available to all those who need one?

Please do let us know.

tiggytape Fri 22-Mar-13 08:48:49

Couthy - that sounds a lot like our area. The council gave permission to build (much needed) dense housing developments and then seem shocked beyond belief to discover people moved in with children - who'd have thought it - family homes full of families?! They had no plan at all to absorb these extra children into already full local schools.
What they also didn't anticipate was so many families would stay in flats even after having 2 or more children and wouldn't move to a new area for cheaper, larger houses as families used to do.

The reason the problem has been allowed to continue and escalate may be partly due to the public pressure - or lack of it - for councils to resolve this. For most people it is a one year only problem and quickly forgotten after it is resolved so whilst strength of feeling is high while they have no place, most parents stop pestering and campaigning once their own children are in.

Many people are lucky enough to get a child in on a low birthrate year and have their high-birthrate-sibling get automatic entry so it doesn't touch them. People who have horrible trouble getting any school at all eventually get allocated something even if it takes months and is miles away. The problem eventually goes away and they stop hassling about it. The people following behind - those with 9 year olds and 3 year olds often don't even know about the problem until it hits them. So many people naively assume they'll get into their local school no problem and cannot believe it when they find out they won't.

CouthySaysEatChoccyEggs Thu 21-Mar-13 23:23:02

Oh, we KNOW they aren't going to come in time - the 'new' Primary school that opened 3 years ago was opened a full 10 YEARS after it was desperately needed. It was full before it opened...

Then the school we are waiting for was meant to be opened 6 YEARS ago. It will (hopefully) be open September 2016 - but only for Reception. Which means that DS3 will be a year too old.

Then again, that's how they intended to open the 'new' Primary too - and were swept away with the demand for places (Can't see how, they KNEW they had built 3 full housing estates in that area...) that they HAD to open it up to all year groups.

The same thing will happen with this one.

We might be slightly luckier with the extra Secondary places needed - but that's because they are going to build an 'additional site' for a pre-existing Secondary, rather than a 'new' school. I don't see it being open for September 2015 when it is needed, mind you. They are being wildly optimistic in that, in my view, when you consider that they haven't even decided on the exact site yet...

So I could be facing DS2 without a Secondary place AND DS3 without a Primary place AT THE SAME TIME.

<<Lies down in a darkened room at the sheer thought of that...>>

tiggytape Thu 21-Mar-13 17:45:06

Merry - I sympathise totally. I was more thinking out loud about how they define 'reasonable' in terms of miles or minutes when rush hour traffic means not much ground can be covered in a relatively long period of time.
It sounds like you desperately need new school places but whether they can come in time is going to be the problem.

MerryCouthyMows Thu 21-Mar-13 17:27:10

My 1.998 mile journey takes me 25 minutes in morning rush hour...

There's no way they could get to the town 30 miles away, in morning rush hour, in less than 90 mins, IMO.

But all the village schools in between the two towns are too oversubscribed too. So they can't send them there. And NONE of the local schools have ANY more expansion room!

tiggytape Thu 21-Mar-13 12:47:01

unless you ask for a school more than 2 miles away because that's the closest one that can take you of course.

As to whether 30 miles is more than an hour journey - I don't know how they would decide. In theory very few 30 minute routes take more than an hour but of course in town centre traffic even a 3 mile journey can take that on some days!

tiggytape Thu 21-Mar-13 12:31:38

If you are allocated a school more than 2 miles away by the shortest walking route you are entitled to free transport. However, that does not apply is you asked for a school so far away - only if you get allocated it because your choices are full.

In terms of reasonable distance to travel, anything up to an hour each way is regarded as reasonable. It is far from ideal of course and I agree many wouldn't want this but it does have to happen in some cases.

MerryCouthyMows Thu 21-Mar-13 12:30:11

Mooring = mooting. Autocorrect.

MerryCouthyMows Thu 21-Mar-13 12:29:30

I'm asking because one of the solutions my LA is currently mooring is to send 4yo's in minibuses or hired school buses to the next town over, 30+ miles away, to a school in Special Measures, that during rush hour would take 90 mins+ to get to...

I personally don't think that that is a viable solution - I wouldn't want my 11yo DS1 to have a journey time to Secondary school of more than an hour, much less a 4yo.

MerryCouthyMows Thu 21-Mar-13 12:27:10

If the place is halfway across the county, what is classed as a 'reasonable' travel time in the provided transport?

30 minutes? 45 minutes? An hour? There's no way most people would want their 4yo to have a journey time of more than an hour to get to school, and rush hour traffic has to be accounted for.

Would the LA send them halfway across the county irrespective of the journey time, or is there any regulations on what is classed as an 'acceptable' and 'reasonable' journey time for a 4yo?

RubyGates Wed 20-Mar-13 10:37:16

This is interesting:

lljkk Wed 20-Mar-13 09:40:20

if an area really HASN'T got a school place for a child, what happens to that child?

LA is obliged to find the child a place but it could be half way across the county (transport would be provided). There is a standard appeals procedure, waiting lists, etc., but I've figured out our LEA doesn't adhere to all the national admissions guidelines, either.

We were keen to move to Wymondham in Norfolk but decided against because of the nightmare impossibility of getting DC into any local school. Anyone know if Cambridge is just as bad?

tiggytape Wed 20-Mar-13 09:36:11

Ruby - that's grim. I assumed from your post you were Head of Admissions or something. I agree - you shouldn't be getting the abuse from the parents over this!

People do however have the right to live where they want to and being close to family is as important as work reasons for many.
It is a bit like saying the people who've lived there for 10 years should be told to stop having babies because the 2018 school intake is already full and if they choose to keep adding to the numbers, they've only got themselves to blame when the schools can't give them a place.

Each area has reasons for the shortage but the outcome is the same.
You have people flocking for family reasons.
Other areas have high birth and immigration numbers.
Other towns have people trapped in flats because they can nolonger afford houses so great clusters of children now all live a stones throw from the schools.
Wealthy areas blame the economy - they used to rely on 20 or 30% of people paying for private schools but now they all fight for state school places too.
In some areas it is because councils closed schools that are now needed.
In other areas it is because hundreds of new homes have been approved but no new schools to serve them.
The list is very long and in each area people are righly cross that this has meant existing children (and of course newcomers) cannot get into any local schools

RubyGates Wed 20-Mar-13 09:22:00

Plus I'm a librarian, not working for the education department and swearing and cursing at me is not appropriate in any circumstances. I'm trying to help.

RubyGates Wed 20-Mar-13 09:20:26

Tiggy, I'm talking about people who move for non-work reasons. Most of them who end up here don't/can't work. They move here for community/family support, and get outraged that there is not a limitless supply of instant school places.

Obviously if you have to move for work reasons that's very different. But it seems that many families don't think beyind the fact that Auntie/Uncle/Grandma/ lives here and there will be a happy ending.

tiggytape Wed 20-Mar-13 09:16:56

Ruby - people moving into a new area often face very real problems getting a school place. However that isn't to imply a lack of planning on their part. Some people have to move for work, family or other reasons and do so knowing full well they'll struggle to get into a local school.
That doesn't make it their fault and they have every right to complain long and loud if they've not been found a place within 6 months - that is not acceptable. A local school must be forced to take that child and accept a bigger class size.

The problem being discussed however is different.
Currently the number of 4 year olds living in certain towns outstrips the total number of reception places within a 10 mile radius.
It therefore follows that there will not be enough places for all of them even if, as the council assumes 15% will eventually go private or move.
This isn't the parents fault at all. The birth rate soared from 2008 onwards, the number going private has slumped and there simply aren't enough places for people who've lived in the same place all their lives. It isn't all down to newcomers and the same is now more true of 10 year olds living in areas where there won't be enough secondary school places to take all of them.

gazzalw Wed 20-Mar-13 09:15:15

When our Borough asked for suggestions regarding solutions to the shortfall in primary school places, DW thought outside the box and suggested that it would be cheaper to send the children without places to pre-prep schools - needless to say that went down like a lead-balloon grin.

It is more than worrying though....

RubyGates Wed 20-Mar-13 09:08:34

As for providing a tutor, no, I don't think they do.
There are/is herds a large number of school age children visible every day in our part of the world shopping with their parents/hanging out in the local cafes.

I know a family of three girls, the oldest of whom (7) didn't get a school place for about 6 months after the family moved into the area.

They are not HE, they are, in the main, families who have moved into the area without any research simply because they have an appropriate ethnic/cultural support network here, without realising that the area is already stuffed with small chlildren and that the local council DON' T have any more capacity for school places. (And I've been on the receiving end of more than one unpeasant barrage from an outraged parent about this).

The local surestarts/children's centres are having to provide extra sessions for their younger siblings whilst simultaneously having their budgets cut.

tiggytape Wed 20-Mar-13 08:46:40

Merry - there is an emergency measure called Fair Access Protocol.
This means that if every single school within a wide radius (say 7-10 miles or so) has no vacant spaces, the council can force one of them to take an extra child an go above numebrs. The parents don't get to choose which school this is - the council decide which school can best cope with an extra pupil so it may still be a poor school or miles from home but at least it is a place.

If your DS's addistional / medical needs are already diagnosed or documented, you may get priority at certain schools because some schools (not all) put medical criteria above siblings or above distance.

If you found yourself with no school place and were the only one in that situation, chances are Fair Access Protocol would get you a place somewhere (not necessarily a school in your half of the town though).
If you were one of 150 people with no place, chances are the council would ask all local primary schools to take a bulge class so 5 schools would be asked to take an extra 30 pupils for 1 year only.

I have heard of situations where neither was happened but am unsure how hard the parents pushed for a solution / if they knew about FAP etc. Some children have (wrongly) been told that the council can wait until after they've turned 5 to find them a place and left them at home until then.
Some councils have supplied a home tutor or a once a week study group. Whether this is 'allowd' is debatable.

If you find yourself with no place, get on every waiting list you can, hassle the council for weekly updates, ask about FAP and bulge classes and take every single school you've listed to appeal.

MerryCouthyMows Wed 20-Mar-13 05:46:02

And I'm concerned about this given the fact that they year DS3 is due to start school, there will be a shortage of 157 places in the North end of my town (where I am), and a shortage of 22 places in the South side of my town (which is inaccessible from the North side by public transport in rush hour, at least not to be ON TIME for school start...)

Worried that as DS3 has no sibling link, we are already outside the last catchment area for ANY Primary in our area (black spot), and he won't have a sibling link as DS2 will have left by the time he starts, that it will be DS3 left without a school place.

And that will be complicated by his medical needs.

And compounded by his other SN's.

<<Keeps fingers crossed that Statementing process that has already started goes through ok for SN Nursery, as then I will have the pick if the MS Primaries...>>

If not, we are probably going to be in the situation where DS3 ends up with NO place at all...

MerryCouthyMows Wed 20-Mar-13 05:40:12

Out of curiosity, if an area really HASN'T got a school place for a child, what happens to that child?

Surely the LA has to do something? Do they provide a tutor? Do they force a school to take an additional pupil over the ICS regs?

If they do nothing, what happens when that child is still not in school after their 5th birthday? What happens if it gets to halfway through Reception year and they still haven't got a school place? Do the parents then get the EWO sent out because their DC is still not in school?

What about if it gets to halfway through Y1 and the DC is still not in school?

Has that happened? Where a parent is unable or unwilling to HE the DC, for whatever reason, maybe low educational level themselves, or they are out at work, unable to travel to the neighbouring area due to lack of transport, or simply because it was always their intention to send the DC to school, and the DC is still not in school?

Do they get in trouble for not providing their school age DC with a suitable education? Surely that would be breaking the Education Act that states that every child should be receiving some form of education by the term after their 5th Birthday?

Surely in that case, the parent has a case against the LA for forcing them to HE against their wishes?

Confused about the eventual outcome...

Mirage Tue 19-Mar-13 19:56:40

All the county primary schools around us were full up this year.Even the one which had less than 10 pupils, had a full reception class this year.The lady next door but one to me failed to get her DD into the village school and tried every primary within a 10 mile radius,and there was not one space.

PlasticLentilWeaver Tue 19-Mar-13 13:23:35

We weren't offered anything either. It was only my own hunting through neighbouring LEAs that found a place, my own LEA abdicated all responsibility. The fact that it was in special measures and we decided not to take the place is neither here nor there, the LEA simply couldn't be bothered to do their job and just said there were no places.

tiggytape Tue 19-Mar-13 13:14:25

When we got no school place offered, I don't mean we weren't offered a nice one, I mean we weren't offered one at all. Because they were all full. Even the bad ones. Even the ones miles away from our home as well as all of those nearby.
And if it is this bad at secondary level in some places, I feel very sorry for people with younger children hearing it is twice as bad at primary level.
It all worked out in the end - but only through luck on a waiting list where we had to take our place and couldn't jump the queue - there was no magic solution offered other than to wait and hope something would turn up.

MerryCouthyMows Tue 19-Mar-13 13:05:17

Tiggytape is right - there are areas where NO schools have spaces, not even the ones in 'Special Measures'. Yet there are still DC's in that area without places ANYWHERE, because 1,500 DC's cannot fit into 1,000 school places...

tiggytape Tue 19-Mar-13 12:52:08

Yes Dom - in some areas it can be that btu that's a separate problem
In lots of areas, the figures speak for themselves - there are 500 more children applying for a school than there are school places. Not 500 more children than decent school places but 500 more children than all school places that exist in total.

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