Fears over school placement offers

CALLS have been made for an overhaul of the system for allocating school places in Essex because of the “incredibly late” timing of offers to parents. Parents in the county will be the last in the region to learn where their children have been offered a place at primary school next year.

CALLS have been made for an overhaul of the system for allocating school places in Essex because of the “incredibly late” timing of offers to parents.

Parents in the county will be the last in the region to learn where their children have been offered a place at primary school next year.

Offers will be made by Essex County Council on May 2, as opposed to March 1 for youngsters starting secondary school.

The timing will cause problems within schools, according to a leading headteacher, and has sparked calls for an earlier start to the entire application process in Essex.


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Essex, with its May 2 offer date, is months behind Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire where the county councils in those counties inform their parents in December this year and January next year respectively.

In Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, parents will find out which schools their children have offers from in April.

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Ruth Brock, executive chairman of the Essex Primary Headteachers' Association, said: “We know this date is too late, but we also know that people are trying very hard to make it work.

“We knew that by making that date so late it would cause problems. The local education authority has tried to be as helpful as they can. There are going to be teething problems and we have made that clear at a high level that this will be difficult for us.”

Stephen Castle, the county council's cabinet member for schools, defended the offer date, saying the new system in Essex, in which the county council rather than individual schools offers places, actually speeded up the process.

He said: “The aim of this scheme is to speed up the process for schools and parents alike, not to slow it down.

“The scheme removes several issues which made the process itself - and also the appeals process - slower in previous years.

“Firstly it eliminates the possibility within Essex of several schools making an offer to one pupil, a contingency which formerly caused delays for any school which was then rejected by the pupil's parents and had to find other applicants, if any were still awaiting the offer of a place at the school in question.

“The scheme also aims to give as many parents as possible their first-choice school, thus reducing the need for appeals in the first place.”

The matter was raised in County Hall by Mr Castle's fellow Tory Susan Flack, who yesterday said: “I queried the fact that it is incredibly late, but that is the problem when the county council has to co-ordinate all of them.

“Even when the offers were made in April it made parents nervous enough. If you go to May then you are allowing remarkably little time for parents to appeal. This is a very nervous time for parents.”

Julie Young, the Labour spokesperson on education at the county council, yesterday said the later offer date would increase anxiety felt by parents at a sensitive time in their children's education.

As well as calling for Essex to follow neighbouring authorities with their earlier dates, Mrs Young said: “It strikes me as being very difficult for parents if they are only getting the offers of places in May as it gives them very little time to go through the appeals process.

“I am very concerned about this and I think we should at least be trying to achieve the standards that our neighbouring authorities are achieving.”

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