Suffolk: Parents label school admissions system a “shambles”

PARENTS who used county’s online admission service have voiced dismay after they were wrongly told their child had not won a place at any of their preferred schools.

PARENTS are voicing their dismay over being wrongly told their children had not won a place at any of their preferred schools after using an online admission service.

Affected parents have labelled Suffolk County Council’s handling of this year’s admissions for upper and high schools a “shambles”.

The county council today publicly apologised for the problems which have been blamed on a software glitch.

The problem first emerged when parents were sent e-mails a few days ago telling them the outcome of their applications.

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The e-mails from the county council first told them their child had got a place at one of their three preferred schools. But, lower down, they were then told: “I am sorry that it has not been possible to offer a place for your child at any of your preferred schools.”

The conflicting information left worried parents “beside themselves” and triggered a flurry of calls both to schools and the county council’s admission service seeking urgent clarification.

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One of those parents affected was Robert Whiting, of Hitcham, near Hadleigh.

He said: “The receipt of the initial e-mail was very worrying. There has been a huge amount of effort and our money go on this complete balls up.”

Mr Whiting, whose child has been offered a place at Hadleigh High School, said the information sent out by the county council had been contradictory and “confusing”.

He said he feared many parents in the county affected by the letters would have been left worried and confused.

Another parent, from the Sudbury area and who asked not to be named, said: “It was a complete shambles. Waiting for a place is such an important thing and this could have upset quite a few people.

“One of my friends was beside herself because she had only read the bottom bit telling her she had not got her place. I read the top bit and thought great my son has got his place and then read the bottom bit which said he hadn’t. When I phoned the chap at the council he asked whether I’d received an e-mail with conflicting details so they obviously knew about it and were expecting calls.

Liberal Democrat children and schools spokeswoman Penny Otton said: “This is very strange and unacceptable. I will now make inquiries to see what on earth is going on.”

Bryony Rudkin, Labour spokeswoman for children and schools, said: “It is a stressful time for the parents and they should expect clear communications.

“They should spend more time making sure that the right letters get sent out.”

Mark Ereira, Green and Independent schools spokesman, said: “I’ve been told the problem was caused by the software. This happened when very serious and important information was being sent out. It has now been put right which is very important. Let’s hope it does not happen again.”

Geoff Barton, headteacher at King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds, told how his office staff were fielding calls last week from worried parents seeking clarification.

“At a time when it is fairly stressful for parents, this sort of thing doesn’t help,” Mr Barton said.

Ian Brown, the county council’s head of service for children and young people, said:“On March 1, the county council sent out offers of places in secondary schools for September. Unfortunately, an unexpected IT issue resulted in an incorrect paragraph being sent to parents who had gone through the admissions process online.

“Enquiries or complaints were responded to individually as soon as this problem was reported and a follow up email was sent to all parents apologising for the error and correcting it.

“The county council undertook a detailed analysis of the system and it transpires that a fault had occurred on the morning when emails were sent out. The fault has now been corrected.

“We can confirm that all letters sent by first class post to parents are correct. Suffolk County Council recognises the importance of clear and accurate communications to parents at this time and apologises for any upset this may have caused.”

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