A case of less choice and more travel

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The Independent Online
Sometimes as she drives to work before 7.30am, Anne Gordon sees one of her former pupils standing at a bus stop, or a small group making its way to the station to catch a train to school.

These are children who attended Ruislip Gardens Primary School in Hillingdon, west London, where Mrs Gordon is headteacher, but who have been unable to find places in their local opted-out secondary school.

Instead, these 11-year-olds are travelling for more than an hour to reach schools in other parts of the borough. Last year, a group of parents kept their children at home rather than let them undertake this awkward journey to schools that are between three and four miles away, but eventually they were forced to give in and send them there.

All but three of Hillingdon's 16 secondary schools have opted out, and parents apply to them separately rather than through the local authority. While headteachers such as Anne Gordon can ring the schools to ask which of their children have applied there, it is hard for them to have an overview and to anticipate potential problems.

Coupled with the Greenwich Judgment, a High Court ruling that forced schools to take children from across borough boundaries if they lived nearer than other applicants, the situation has made transfer to secondary schools in the area difficult.

This year, most of Mrs Gordon's pupils will win places at Queensmead, their local secondary, because they already have brothers and sisters there. But next year she foresees more problems.

While in the past she would have turned to the local authority for help, there is now little that officials at Hillingdon can do. The Funding Agency for Schools, based in York, is too remote to deal with these local difficulties, she added.

"How can people up north know what the local situation is here? It seems to me that the FAS accepts the admissions procedures for [grant maintained] schools and then after that that's it.

"For me, the big problem is that it has taken away parents' choice of local secondary schools for their children," she said.