Complaints over primary school places soar

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The Independent Online

There has been a sharp rise in the number of complaints by parents over primary school admissions.

Government figures published yesterday show a 10 per cent increase in the number of parents dissatisfied with the school allocated to their children, from 13,600 in 2004-05 to 14,930 last year. The number of successful appeals rose from 4,700 to 5,390 in the same period.

The trend is in marked contrast to admissions to secondary schools where the number of appeals lodged is falling.

The figures appear to indicate that the Government's drive to promote parental choice is making those seeking primary school places more choosy.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: "Parents have become more engaged in their children's education."

At secondary school level, the fall in numbers could be down to ministers making it easier for popular and oversubscribed schools to expand. New legislation compelling local councils to accept expansion plans from oversubscribed schools except in extreme circumstances come into force today but some councils may have pre-empted the legislation.

The number of appeals over admissions went down by 2,410 in 2005-06 from 59,000 the previous year to 56,590. The number of successful appeals also fell - although they increased as a percentage of the total because of the overall decline in the numbers appealing. In 2001-02, 32.8 per cent of appeals were successful but this figure rose to 36.3 per cent last year. Jim Knight, the Schools minister, welcomed the figures, saying: "Parents now have more choice of good schools than ever before thanks to rising standards and our unprecedented investment."

However, Mary Bousted, general secretary of the 160,000-strong Association of Teachers and Lecturers, argued the figures showed ministers had misled parents by pretending to offer them choice over schools.

"Although one in 20 parents appeals against a secondary school place, this represents just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to parents' annual anguish over the admissions process," she said.

Sarah Teather, the Liberal Democrats' education spokeswoman, said: "Behind these numbers lie thousands of worried parents who are struggling to get the best for their children.

"Until every school is a good school the concept of parental choice will be meaningless."

Nick Gibb, the Conservative schools spokesman, said: "The fact that so many parents are still failing to get their children into the school of their choice demonstrates once again the need for us to create more good schools in the state sector and to raise standards in all schools."

Winning a place at a good state school has been a fraught experience for families for years, with some of the most popular schools criticised for covertly selecting pupils.

Ministers, however, have acted to outlaw this by refusing them permission to conduct interviews which, it is claimed, have been used to select more children from middle-class families.

Margaret Morrissey, spokeswoman for the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, said: "Parents have just lost the will to live when it gets to secondary school. They think 'if we go to appeal it is going to take for ever'."

She added: "I think probably at primary school stage parents have still got this optimism that, when they appeal, something will be done about it.

"It's either that or more competition for primary school places than there has been historically."