Students' heartbreak as Leeds' college offer cancelled by text under 'unprecedented' scramble for places

A scramble for college places in the wake of higher GCSE grades has intensified after parents claimed hundreds of young people’s offers were rescinded by text message.

Parents say college offers were cancelled by text message as setting faced 'unprecedented' demand amid rise in student numbers

Leeds’s Notre Dame Catholic College has found itself at the centre of a furore after it cancelled enrolments on Thursday with less than a day’s notice under “unprecedented” circumstances after courses suddenly filled.

But parents have spoken with fury at being left with narrow hope of securing another place just weeks before the new term.

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“We are absolutely shocked beyond belief,” said Bradford mother Samina Aslam, whose 16-year-old son Rohaan Safeer met the conditions for his offer but received a text on Wednesday afternoon to cancel his enrolment.

Parents say college offers were cancelled by text message as setting faced 'unprecedented' demand amid rise in student numbers

“The students were crying at the gates. I’m now frantically looking for colleges but with it being so late in the day, they are all full. Through no fault of our own, we are left hanging.”

Read more: GCSE results 2021: Grades soar to record high after second year of pandemic cancelled exams

'Unprecedented' position

More than a quarter of GCSE entries were awarded top grades this year, as results soared to a record high following the second year of cancelled exams.

But Notre Dame, an already oversubscribed college for some years which is rated Outstanding by Ofsted, said it found itself in an “unprecedented” position this week as courses filled within three days.

Cancelling Thursday’s planned enrolment day, it said it had to enact its priority places plan, based on partner schools, Catholic students, and finally other settings in order of distance.

Parents reacted with fury, gathering at the school gates and inundating the school with messages after phone lines were diverted to a closed voicemail.

One parent decried the process as an “utter shambles”, another said it was an unacceptable way to treat 16-year-old students, while a third criticised the school’s “dismissive” manner by informing students through text message.

'Ethical and moral' response

In a statement, Notre Dame said it fully shared students’ disappointment and frustration, but that it had responded “ethically and morally” to a unique set of circumstances.

There has been a “significant” rise in student numbers in the Leeds region, the college said, and combined with better GCSE results, this meant it hit “unprecedented” capacity.

“We know we have acted as ethically and morally as we could have under such difficult circumstances,” the statement read.

“We understand the disappointment this has created, and we are frustrated that we are unable to offer any more places.”

With Leeds’s post-16 student numbers having risen seven per cent since 2018, and projected to rise a further 18 per cent by 2025, the college cited “enormous pressure” on places in successful sixth form colleges across the country, with no provision for growth.

“All students have been added to our waiting list, but unfortunately, the college is experiencing at local level a very real national problem,” it said.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Colleges across the country are ready to welcome students from September, and have been gearing up for higher enrolments for some time.

“We’re committed to ensuring there is a place in education or training for every young person, which is why we’re investing an extra £291m in the sector for 2021-22, in addition to £83m to specifically ensure post-16 providers can accommodate the demographic increase in 16-19 year olds.

"We are working with Notre Dame Catholic Sixth Form College and the local authority to make sure all young people in the area can access the education or training that enables them to progress."

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