Appeals over school places rise by 120%

Parental choice: More families are challenging local education authority decisions after being denied their preferred option
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The Independent Online

Education Editor

Appeals by parents who fail to get their children into the school of their choice have risen by 120 per cent during the last five years, according to figures released today.

There were nearly 46,000 appeals in 1994 compared with about 21,000 five years earlier. The total number of parents who have appealed against local authorities' allocation of places during that period is 173,000.

The number who decided to persist with their cases as far as a statutory appeals panel has also risen sharply.

Some parents negotiate with their local councils and reach agreement about their child's school without going to a formal appeal hearing. Others abandon their appeals because they decide not to prolong uncertainty for their children or because vacancies arise in the schools of their choice.

In 1989, 15,171 cases were heard before committees compared with 32,188 in 1994. Of that total 6,534 were successful in 1989 and 13,255 in 1994 - a similar proportion.

All the figures were revealed in parliamentary answers to Stephen Byers, the Labour MP for Wallsend.

Government critics say that there are two main reasons why appeals have gone up. First, ministers' talk of parental choice has encouraged more parents who fail to get the school of their choice to challenge council decisions.

Secondly, the Government's policy of allowing market forces to determine which schools flourish and which decline has increased the gap between schools.

Mr Byers said: "While the Tories talk of extending parental choice these figures reveal that more and more parents are being denied the school of their choice. There is a growing army of parents who feel angry at being deceived by the Government.

"That so many parents have been prepared to go all the way and suffer the trauma and stress of a full hearing before a statutory committee is a clear indication of the strength of feeling amongst parents."

Councils say that every appeal costs them money. David Whitbread, the education under-secretary at the Association of County Councils, said: "Government policies have tended to enhance the appearance of a pecking order across schools, by giving the impression that grant-maintained schools are better than the rest and by publishing league tables."

He added: "You get more overall parental satisfaction if you try and keep a greater equality of esteem among schools."

One of the results of the increase in appeals, he said, was that popular schools were becoming overcrowded. Schools have to be full before they can refuse a pupil a place.

Margaret Tulloch, secretary of the parents' pressure group the Campaign for State Education, said the Government had shifted the blame for school choice on to parents.

She added: "They say they have given parents the information and it is their fault if they make the wrong choice."