Parents fight to spare girl 30-mile round trip; CASE STUDY

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The Independent Online

Education Correspondent

At the age of 11, Rachel Hart was told she must make a 30-mile round trip to school each day because there were no school places locally.

The two grant-maintained secondary schools near her home in Stoneleigh, Surrey, were full and the only one that could take her was in Dorking.

Faced with the prospect of seeing their daughter off on a lengthy train and bus ride each day, her parents, Paul and Beverly, went to appeal. They argued that Beverly had medical problems and did not drive, and that Rachel had a right to be educated in the borough of Epsom and Ewell, where she lived.

The Harts were among almost 300 families in Surrey and in neighbouring Sutton who were told their children could not go to the secondary schools near their homes. The problem was caused by an increase in the number of 11-year-olds but was aggravated by the fact that many local schools had opted out and introduced separate admissions procedures.

The government has tried to increase parental choice of schools in recent years, but Rachel's father is sceptical. He believes the changes, coupled with the introduction of exam league tables, has left some families with no choice at all.

"I get the impression that there is choice: the schools choose which children they want. They are running private businesses where profit is measured in exam results," he said.

The Harts lost their appeal, but were told just a few weeks before the autumn term started that Rachel could go to Rosebery Girls' School, a short distance from her home. As a result of parental pressure, the agency which funds opted-out schools had provided extra places and is now planning to build a new local school to take up the shortfall.