Watchdog warns over shortage of primary school places

Local councils have been forced to create thousands of additional primary school places this year because of a desperate squeeze on reception classes, the official admissions watchdog has warned. This is from the Telegraph…

A shortage of capacity for four and five-year-olds remains one of the biggest problems facing education authorities across England, it was revealed.

The Office of the Schools Adjudicator said that a year-on-year rise in the birth rate meant some councils were being forced to create up to 20 additional reception classes – accommodating 600 pupils in total.

In its annual report, the regulator warned that authorities were “beginning to be anxious” about the supply of places in secondary schools as the recent boom in the primary age group starts to work its way through the education system.

It said that increasing numbers of children living within certain catchment areas were unable to secure places at their local schools. The problem has led to some schools abandoning traditional catchment areas altogether in favour of measuring all applicants based on their distance to the school gates.

The regulator warned that the squeeze on places had been exacerbated by the number of parents securing priority “sibling” places for younger brothers and sisters – preventing other children getting into their local school.

The comments come amid a 23 per cent rise in the number of complaints – often from parents – against schools and councils over the admissions system. This year, some 156 new complaints were reported to the OSA, up from 127 a year earlier.

Separate data from the Department for Education published earlier this year showed that almost 800,000 additional children aged 11 or under would be in state education by 2020 because of rising birth rates and the effects of immigration in some areas.

According to figures, this represents an increase of a fifth in the primary population in less than a decade – to its highest level since the early 1970s.

Dr Elizabeth Passmore, the chief schools adjudicator, said councils had reported concerns about “the need for more primary school places” over most other issues.

In her first annual report, she said: “The need for additional places is not restricted, as sometimes portrayed, to Greater London.

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