Primary school to pick pupils by ballot

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The Independent Online

Gaining a place at one popular primary school will literally be a lottery for some pupils. St Bernadette's Roman Catholic school is so oversubscribed that East Sussex county council has allowed it to hold a ballot to select some of next year's intake.

Worried parents, desperate to get their child into the school in the busy Withdean area of Brighton, have been assured only children who struggle to meet the entry criteria will have their names go into the hat. The school's governors decided something needed to be done after it became clear the school could be swamped with a wave of applications for next year. With just 30 new entrants a year, there is a huge demand for places.

The decision, by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator, applies to admissions to the 227-pupil school from September, 2005. Lots are to be drawn under the scrutiny of an independent education authority admissions officer.

The adjudicator, Robert Lanwarne, defended the unusual selection. "Lots will be drawn only in the event of all else being equal," he said. "This is an unfortunate situation but it seems to be the fairest way. Although the drawing of lots is unusual, it is acceptable in exceptional circumstances." He said the governors had preferred a "distance-based criterion" and urged them to explore this for the next admissions.

Five months ago the school made news after reportedly refusing a place to a young boy who had not been baptised early enough. The school has refused to comment.