Sharp rise in parents appealing primary school places

Mini-baby boom, recession and greater parental awareness of choice cited for increase in applications and appeals

There has been a sharp rise in the number of parents appealing to get their child into the primary school of their choice, official figures reveal.

Some 61,950 appeals were heard from families whose child was rejected by their preferred school in 2008, compared with 56,610 the year before. But the proportion of appeals that succeeded fell from 34.4% to 30.9%. In some areas of the country up to one in five families appealed after applying to a secondary school and in one area - Leicester - 60% appealed.

The rise in appeals came almost exclusivelyin primary schools , suggesting that more parents than ever are struggling to secure the place of their choice for younger siblings. Opposition MPs said it was evidence that Labour had not produced enough good schools to go round.

Since last year councils across the country have reported a squeeze on primary places after a mini-baby boom and rising numbers of applications. Some of these may have been triggered by parents opting for state schools over private schools as a result of the recession.

The spike in appeals also coincided with high profile row in 2008 over unfair admissions. It erupted after the schools secretary, Ed Balls, published figures showing that some schools were routinely breaking a new admissions code designed to make the system fairer by preventing schools from interviewing pupils and asking discriminatory questions on application forms. Ministers at the time advised parents to appeal if they were dissatisfied with the place they were offered.

Parents can appeal against the school allocated to their child if they feel the process was unfair. A panel is convened to hear each appeal and parents are increasingly engaging lawyers to help them argue their case.

Of the 61,950 appeals heard, 19,150 decided in the parents' favour – down slightly from 19,450 the year before. In total 1,717,180 applications were made for places at state schools for September 2008.

There was a disproportionately high number of appeals for places at a foundation or faith schools compared with community schools. Foundation schools and faith schools are typically more oversubscribed than community schools and also control their own admissions.

There were also wide regional variations in the number of appeals with 60% of families disputing secondary places in Leicester compared with 20% in Slough, Blackburn and Kensington and Chelsea.

In Redbridge 10% of families appealed, in Bradford 8% appealed and in Bolton 6%. A spokesperson for the Department for Children Schools and Families said they would be writing to the authorities with the highest appeal rates to find out why so many parents disputed their allocation of a primary place.

Nick Gibb, the shadow schools minister, said: "These figures leave us in no doubt that increasing numbers of parents are unhappy with the school choices open to them."

Diana Johnson, the schools minister, said: "The vast majority of parents get their child into a school that they are happy with and it is very rare that schools break the admissions rules. But we deliberately created the transparent admissions system that exists, opening it up to parents and making it fair and accountable, because we want parents choosing schools, not schools choosing parents."


Polly Curtis, education editor

The GuardianTramp

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