No place in school for 364 Westminster children

Council blames rising birth rate and new arrivals in the borough as it fails to find desks for hundreds of children

MORE than 360 children in Westminster are missing out on their education as they wait to be given a school place.

The council has failed to provide 364 youngsters with a place and almost half of those have been out of school for three months or more.

Paddington and Maida Vale are the worst affected areas with 83 and 75 children out of school respectively.

One mother, who didn’t want to be named, moved in with family members in Maida Vale six weeks ago after suffering a mini stroke. Despite being told she had been given priority due to her serious medical condition which could see her suffer a sudden heart attack at any time, her eight-year-old son had to wait five weeks before being found a school place while her daughter, 10, is still out of school.

She said: “Westminster has been really bad. I have been calling them every day and writing letters but they are totally dismissive and very rude.

“They aren’t interested in me. They don’t seem to be bothered and just tell me to be patient. It’s had an effect on both my children because they are always fighting and are miserable.

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“My daughter has become unhappy and withdrawn. I don’t know how to explain to her that it’s not in my hands.”

Despite having more than 50 schools across the borough, 225 primary aged children and 139 of secondary age are without places.

Cllr Paul Dimoldenberg, leader of Westminster Labour, says the problem lies with a lack of personnel in the council’s education department as a result of staffing cuts.

“Children only have one chance at a good education and not enabling them to go to school is a cardinal sin,” he said.

“Any parent knows that one of the things that a school will say is they want to see your child in school every day because every day is important for their education.

“The council needs people at the education department to help parents. For the parents to know what the opportunities are is simply impossible without help.”

North Westminster MP Karen Buck added: “It’s all well and good saying you want to cut backroom staff but you are saving money on the one hand and creating problems on the other.

“The council has to make sure it provides some education for those children while they are waiting for a place.”

However, Cllr Nickie Aiken, cabinet member for children and young people, refuted the staff shortage accusations, stating Westminster has had to find places for an extra 569 pupils in the last five years.

“The reality is we have seen a sudden influx of new arrivals in Westminster, particularly via other EU countries,” she said.

“In the last two months, the council has been contacted by over 400 families who are new to the borough and need school places. The rise in birth rates coupled with an increase in immigration shows no sign of abating.”

The council says it is supportive of the Ark Atwood Primary School in north Westminster, one of the government’s new free schools, which aims to admit 60 reception pupils when it opens in September.