Parents launch fight to claim school places

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The Independent Online
Parents of children denied places at popular local schools while other families cheat to gain offers are uniting in admissions blackspots to expose what they claim is the "myth of parental choice".

Amid evidence that in some authorities, hundreds of 10- and 11-year-olds have still not been allocated places for September, some parents are pledging to keep their children at home rather than accept offers from distant or low-performing schools.

The anger of new campaign groups being formed to fight for changes to admissions is directed at schools and local authorities but also at parents who use devious means to snatch places in over-subscribed schools.

The Independent revealed last week how councils and individual schools were being forced to clamp down to catch out families giving bogus addresses within key catchment areas or falsely claiming religious beliefs to gain admission to church schools.

Parents whose children have been squeezed out want new legislation to overturn the so-called Greenwich Judgement which obliged local authorities to accept children from outside their boundaries into their schools.

Two of the most outspoken campaign groups were launched last month in Hertfordshire, where around 180 children have no offer of a place for next year. Campaigners claim children from as far away as north London and neighbouring counties have been allocated places while their own children face journeys to school of up to 10 miles.

The situation has arisen partly because Hertfordshire schools give priority to parents in any area who can make a case for a school's suitability for their child before considering applications based on proximity.

Michael Waller, of the Watford and South Herts Parents Group, said: "I and my fellow parents have no problem with schools attracting pupils from outside of the area to improve the standard of education available to all but that should not happen at the expense of local families."

A Hertfordshire County Council spokesman said the authority had done all it could to accommodate parents' wishes and had squeezed 30 extra places into its schools.

A pressure group founded last week in Wandsworth, south London, includes families who live less than 500 yards from their local secondary school yet have no right to a place.

All but three schools in the Conservative-run borough are grant maintained and every school is either selective or specialist, with three secondaries selecting half of their pupils purely on ability regardless of where they live.

Karen Loughran, founder of the Local Education Campaign said: "Parental choice is a myth in Wandsworth. It is only the academic elite or children of parents who can afford coaching for school entrance tests."

A Wandsworth spokesman said the authority had deliberately encouraged a range of schools in place of neighbourhood comprehensives. Those children without offers would have places by September as parents holding more than one place made their final choice.