More than 1,200 children start term without school place

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The Independent Online

Hundreds of children will be spending the first week of the new school year at home because they still do not have a school place. A survey of local education authorities by The Independent reveals more than 1,000 children have not had school places accepted by their parents.

A total of 351 children in the 45 authorities who replied to the survey still did not have a school to go to.

If the figures are representative of councils in England as a whole, it would mean about 1,200 children will be at home when they should be at school.

Most had been offered a place by their local authority but had turned it down.

The figure for the number of children staying away from school next week may be even higher, though, as many authorities responded to the survey by merely saying every parent had been offered a school place.

A spokeswoman for Devon County Council said: "All parents have been offered a place - whether they take it up is up to them but we always meet this statutory obligation. Some have appeals pending, to be heard over September, and these may prefer to not take up the alternative offer until appeal outcome."

The findings prompted parents' leaders to claim that the Government's plan to give parents more choice in their children's schooling had failed. Margaret Morrissey, spokeswoman for the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, said: "I think the situation has got worse.

"There is a danger that - if children are kicking their heels at home when they should be at school - they'll get turned off schooling.

"If their parents know how to play the system, then they're likely to be all right and will get a place.

"But if they're not even vaguely interested in education, then it's going to be worse for their children. They'll end up roaming the streets. The Government may say it is increasing parental choice - but we're still waiting to see it."

The survey also revealed that about 60,000 parents this summer failed to get their children into the school of their choice. However, the figures showed the picture was largely similar to last year - with just as many authorities saying it had improved as reporting that it had worsened.

The survey revealed London authorities were the least likely to be able to place children in their parents' first-choice school.

For instance, in Camden, north London, the figure for the percentage of parents getting their first choice school was 67.4 per cent compared with the upper nineties for most rural county councils.

In Hackney, the figure was 68.6 per cent. The Independent survey comes after figures released by the Government showing a 10 per cent increase in the number of parents of children of primary school age dissatisfied with the school allocated to them - from 13,600 in 2004-05 to 14,930 last year. However, complaints about secondary school admissions fell.

The percentage of successful appeals rose in both sectors, prompting the Schools minister, Jim Knight, to say: "Parents now have more choice of good schools than ever before thanks to rising standards and unprecedented investment."