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School places crisis: 260 children fail to get into top three choices
8:41am Wednesday 16th May 2012 in News
SOME devastated parents may be forced to give up jobs after around 260 children failed to get into their top three primary schools.
And some parents have wept as they protested at their four-year-olds being given school places several miles from home.
Poole and Dorset councils are struggling with a baby boom, but the problem is especially acute in Bournemouth, where 160 families have missed out. Examples include children having to be ferried from Muscliff to Kinson to go to school.
On paper, Bournemouth has enough primary school places for everyone.
But the location of places doesn’t match with local demand and there are now areas of the town with a severe shortage of places, and one area where the local schools are under-subscribed.
This year, there are particular problems in Southbourne – where Stourfield Infant School turned away 41 families living in their catchment area – and in Muscliff, where 15 families living in catchment were refused a place.
In stark contrast, Elmrise primary school managed to fill just 28 out of its 120 places, while nearby schools Kingsleigh and Heathlands are also under-subscribed.
In Stourfield’s case, anyone living over 0.524 of a mile away from the school was turned down and in Muscliff the distance was just 0.454 of a mile.
Many Southbourne families were allocated places at Winton primary, while those in Muscliff, Throop and Strouden Park were given a place at Kingsleigh or Heathlands.
Independent Cllr Ron Whittaker, who represents Muscliff, believes the problem has been exacerbated by the council’s decision to close Townsend Primary in 2008 and by the apparent reluctance of some faith schools to expand.
Church schools are responsible for deciding their own pupil numbers and they have not expanded at the same rate as the town’s community and voluntary controlled schools.
Most non-church schools have now been expanded to cater for three, four or even five classes of reception children every year.
But by 2013, there will still be seven schools that have just two forms of entry – and they are all church schools.
Cllr Whittaker has succeeded in forcing this issue back on to the council agenda and a panel of councillors will spend the next few months reviewing the council’s pupil place-planning process.
He said: “It is so distressing to have parents breaking down in tears because they have got a school place several miles away instead of at one of their local schools.
“I would like to see the council take action to re-open Townsend ready for this September, which I think could be done if they put the effort in.”
Jane Portman, below, executive director for children and families services, said: “We are committed to providing education of the highest standard by developing the former Townsend Primary School site with the best interests of the local community at heart. Next month, we will be recommending that cabinet allocate a significant financial investment of up to £5million to develop this site. By taking a measured, considered approach we hope to ensure the development of this new school will match the high quality of education provided currently within local Primary schools.
“We will continue to offer school places that become available and this is ongoing and our children’s information service is available to provide information for parents on 01202 456223. We do have every sympathy with parents who are unhappy with their offered school.”