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Children miss out on school places

PUBLISHED: 14:44 06 March 2009 | UPDATED: 16:00 07 September 2010

Josie Hinton MORE than a third of Westminster children have missed out on their first choice of secondary school as the recession drives up competition for state schools. The number of 11-year-olds refused their first choice has risen since last year, le

Josie Hinton

MORE than a third of Westminster children have missed out on their first choice of secondary school as the recession drives up competition for state schools.

The number of 11-year-olds refused their first choice has risen since last year, leaving parents with the choice between less-preferred state schools or stumping up the cash to go private.

In Westminster, half of the 10 secondaries are voluntary aided (part-funded by foundations or trusts) - with four of the remaining five turned into academies controlled by private sponsors.

Since Quintin Kynaston in St John's Wood gained foundation status last September, all the secondaries are in charge of their own admissions and set their own criteria.

Marylebone Association chairman Carl Upsall said the situation had left parents with very little choice over their children's education.

"There's a huge problem in Westminster of which the causes are pretty well established," he said.

"There is a complete lack of choice for boys in larger areas of the borough and a dominance of church admissions for girls.

"When you look at the combination of girls' schools selected on the basis of religion and boys being given very little option, it's bound to lead to disappointment."

Mr Upsall added that the system - which allows voluntary aided schools to select pupils on the basis of religion - gave children from religious families an unfair advantage.

"If places must be allocated on this basis, they should be given on the basis of a child's conviction to study religion, rather than the fact that their parents happen to go to church," he said.

Nearly 100,000 families across the country missed out on their first choice of secondary, which has sparked a furious debate on the way places are allocated.

A London School of Economics report this week argues that faith schools and academies should be stripped of their control over admissions - with an independent body given the power to hand out places.

But Andrew Copson, the director of education and public affairs for the British Humanist Association (BHA) - a charity which campaigns for an end to religious privilege - said that, while such changes would be positive, they would not go far enough. We would still be left with a situation in which faith schools could discriminate against students as well as staff according to their private beliefs," he said.

"A modern education system should be based on equality. Surely this new evidence shows that now is the time for the government to support genuinely inclusive schools."

Westminster's children's boss Cllr Sarah Richardson pointed out that the council's role as LEA now extends only as far as to process applications.

But she added: "The vast majority of pupils were awarded a place at one of their preferred schools while almost 90 per cent were offered a place at one of their three top choices.


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