Margaret Morrissey: Admissions must reflect the way we live now

SINCE 1975, school admissions have been a large issue for parents and have caused increasing distress. Successive Shadow Secretaries of State have vowed to change the admissions system and listen to the wishes of parents.

This is fine until they have the power to do so, and then they fail to do anything. My experience over 40 years shows the majority of parents prefer a place in a local school for their children. However, times have changed somewhat as people now travel further to work – and more parents have to work.

A growing army of grandparents care for children while other carers do not live in the school catchment area. There is a need for the children to be in the school local to these carers, where they can walk the children to school and collect them at the end of the day.

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This flexibility needs to be written into the system when school place policies are being determined. It does not seem to be in the realms of improbability for the wishes of parents to be considered.

If a parents wishes to place their children in a school near their place of work so they can take the children to school to be near them in time of emergency or can attend school meetings, this is not an outrageous request.

The Government talks about parental choice but the figures around the country show this gives children false hope. The LEAs tell you that parents in York, for example, only have a 60 per cent chance of being happy with the school offered to their children.

Frequently, when local authorities are challenged on the shortage of school places, they produce figures that show there are sufficient places free in their borough.

What they fail to see, or prefer not to see, is that this is futile if these places are not in the area where children need them, or parents wish them to be.

The threat to parents in the area of the under-subscribed school is that it will close if empty places are not filled. These threats are unacceptable. Either, we fund a state education system or not. Education is not cheap.

Here is my background. I am the youngest of children born in a two-up, two-down cottage on the Yorkshire / North Notts border. My parents knew if I passed my 11-plus I went to the local grammar school. If I failed, I went the comprehensive. There was no need to apply for the school, no stress or anguish and no appeals. There was a catchment area. (I failed my 11-plus).

However today I would be considered a child of so-called “middle class parents” because my parents claimed no help, and remember anyone who has a joint income of £40,000 a year now falls into this category.

So the chances are my place in a local school would be given to another pupil who may not be in our area but was deemed to be “from a poor background”. Can this be right?

All children have rights and robbing Peter to pay Paul has never been – and never will be – acceptable. If your income is £39,000, that’s fine – you have more chance of a place. It’s hard to believe that even a politician could think this to be right.

What we must never accept is a lottery system. Drawing names from a hat to decide a child’s future cannot be acceptable. Children benefit from continuity and security moving through the system with their friends, knowing in advance where their next school will be.

No good has ever come from the rhetoric of governments – past and present – telling parents we will make every school “a good school” and then never saying how. If a school is not one a parent feel is good, then it is wrong to force them to send their children there.

When a school is deemed poor, suspend new entry, work on the school, bring in extra staff, change the school name, the uniform and change the whole school ethos.

When the results of this shows improvement and success, the new entry children will return. It will take a year or more, but it can happen.

Ten fewer parking wardens and the money will be there. If the Government reduces the aid we send overseas to developed countries with richer economies than ours, and spend it on the schools, you would hear the cheer ring around Yorkshire and, in fact, the whole country.

Margaret Morrissey heads ParentsOutloud, an independent, non-funded and non-profit group that represents parents, teachers, grandparents and carers.