Education: A place at last, but what a battle: Which school can literally be a lottery

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Benjamin Steele, aged three, is in the nursery unit of the Beatrix Potter Primary School in Wandsworth. His parents live a few streets away in the school's number one catchment area. It is one of the reasons they moved there and transferred Benjamin to the nursery from another.

He is due to start school this September, but it will not be at Beatrix Potter because, despite all his claims on a place, it is over-subscribed and other children who live even nearer or who have brothers and sisters already there are higher up the queue.

His parents, Eleanor and Simon, were shocked when they found out Benjamin could not have a place and planned to appeal, even though they knew they had little chance of success. Benjamin was 15th on the Beatrix Potter waiting list. The very popular school had already filled its 31 places from the 212 applications it received - 38 from its catchment areas

The other two local primaries, which are about twice the distance from Benjamin's home than Beatrix Potter is, rejected Benjamin too. They also were full with children living closer.

Then, out of the blue last week, someone who had accepted a place at one of the other two more distant primaries dropped out and the Steeles were offered a place, which they accepted. Eleanor says: 'I feel really annoyed that we moved nurseries because he was very happy where he was. If we had known this was likely to happen we would not have moved.

''We have been through such misery and anxiety over this and suddenly it's OK again because someone dropped out. It's such an unpredictable process.'

They are not the only parents annoyed. Some parents have secretly tracked home parents from the Beatrix Potter nursery unit whose children have been successful in obtaining a place in the school and, so it is alleged, discovered they actually appear to live outside the catchment area and have been less than honest about their permanent address.

The head, Stephen Neale, asks for proof of residence when he allocates places as well as checking the electoral register.

He has sought permission from Wandsworth Council to expand the school, but the site is restricted and the council believes there is a limit to the expansion that can take place without destroying the nature of the school's appeal. People like it because it is small and single-storey.

Also the borough has 4,400 surplus primary school places in other areas. Mr Neale says: 'If more children get in on appeal it will just mean the class size is bigger, which won't please the parents who already have places.

'But I understand how they feel. I nearly had to go through the appeal process to get a secondary school place for my son. We are in a no-win situation.'

(Photograph omitted)