Primary school places: Tens of thousands of children miss out on their first-choice


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The Independent Online

Tens of thousands of parents are bracing themselves for disappointment as they find out whether their child has been granted a place in their first-choice primary school for this September.

A total of 600,000 parents throughout England will hear the results of their applications today on the first national offer day for primary schools. Previously, councils have decided when to report on offers.

Already some councils are reporting that the numbers unable to access their first choice school are growing. In Poole, Dorset, the percentage getting their first choices has dropped from 93 per cent last year to 84 per cent this year.

Nationally, as many as one in five parents in some parts of the country - notably in inner city areas like London - are likely to be disappointed.

The London Borough of  Lambeth said that 21 per cent of all applicants - up from 18 per cent last year - had missed out this year. In Bristol, the figure, has risen from 14 per cent to 18 per cent and Brighton went up from 16 per cent to 17.5 per cent.

Elsewhere, the picture is mixed with East Sussex, Derbyshire and Leicestershire reporting an increase in disappointed parents while Darlington, Durham, Stoke-on-Trent, Hull, Rutland and Windsor and Maidenhead recording a rise in the numbers gaining places in their first choice option.

The stampede for school places is exacerbated by a bulge in the birth rate which means an extra 250,000 primary school places will be necessary by 2016.  However, the Department for Education has allocated £5 billion to help local councils provide extra places.  Local authority leaders have said they are confident they will be able to provide a place for every child.

Labour, though, has warned that parents' appeals against being refused a place are less likely to be successful because more schools are oversubscribed as a result of the increase in the birth rate.  Some have already built extra classrooms to accommodate more pupils - sometimes at the expense of space previously earmarked for libraries or children's play.