Balls faces backlash from angry parents over places lottery

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The Independent Online

Ed Balls, the Children's Secretary, is braced for an angry backlash from thousands of parents who fail to get "first-choice" places in local schools for their children.

Letters will be sent to the parents of 600,000 children by town halls today informing them whether they have been successful in getting their offspring into their first-choice secondary school.

The parents include about 1,250 in Brighton who are awaiting the results of the first local authority lottery scheme to determine school places.

Labour-run Brighton City Council decided to introduce the system for the town's most oversubscribed schools in an attempt to stop to the practice of better-off parents snapping up more expensive homes near the top-performing schools. As one official put it: "The parent who buys a home next to the school stands just as much chance as somebody, say, living in a poorer home a quarter of a mile away."

Some parents have lambasted the scheme, saying preference should be given to those who live near by. The scheme is to be reviewed for next year. Yesterday, the shadow Schools minister, Michael Gove, accused the Government of using lotteries to make a "flawed" allocation system work and pledged to end the scheme if the Tories came to power.

"Parents shouldn't have to endure this anxiety and a good state education should not be a matter of chance," he said, adding the current scheme penalised working-class parents who lived next door to their local school but would be denied a place for their child.

Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Gove said: "We should be devoting our energies to ensuring there are more good school places. That's why the Conservatives would scrap Labour's schools lottery."

Council officials expect about 95 per cent of all parents to get an offer of a place at one of three schools they named as preferences, although they acknowledged the proportion who achieve their first-choice school will be lower, at 78 per cent.

Nationally last year, according to information obtained by the Conservatives under the Freedom of Information Act, about 100,000 parents missed out on their first-choice school.

If Brighton's predictions are mirrored nationwide, the figure is likely to be about the same this year.

Meanwhile, headteachers' leaders have accused ministers of misleading parents over school admissions. In a joint paper, the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) and the Foundation & Aided Schools National Association – which represents both selective and non-selective schools – called on all politicians to "end the misleading rhetoric of parental choice".

John Dunford, general secretary of the ASCL, said: "Because there will always be schools that are seen by parents to be more desirable than others, there will always be parents who do not get their first choice and feel hard done by the system."

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