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Primary school admissions in Southwark: What's the Story?

Victoria and Gavin with Cllr Fiona Colley, who chaired the meeting which looked into the council's handling of primary school admissions in our area.

Those of you who attended last month’s public meeting on primary school admissions in our area were treated a good deal of bluff from both Lib Dem councillors and council officers. At times they made it sound as if local parents were being positively rude for asking questions about the council’s administration of this year’s admissions.

But the proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating. We know the process has been poorly handled because of the huge levels of concern demonstrated by local parents. This didn’t happen in other boroughs, and it happened in Southwark for a reason.

Peckham Rye’s Labour Councillor Robert Smeath recently sought to get to the bottom of the situation in Southwark with a question at the last full council meeting. Councillor Smeath asked the Leader of the Council to:

“Please detail the percentage of new applicants for primary school places [in 2009] that did not receive a) their first choice of school ; b) any of their top five choices of school, in the borough by ward.”

The response from the Leader of the Council was:

“Just over 89% of new applicants received one of their four preferences, with 76% receiving their first preference. The council neither plans primary school places nor records applicants’ locations on a ward basis.”

So even taking into account the additional pressures on councils in London, Southwark’s performance is poor. A recent survey of 42 local authorities in the UK revealed that on average, across the UK, 10% of children are refused entry to their first choice primary school. According to the figures above, in Southwark that figure is 24%.

Take a look also at the recently released figures on appeals against Primary School allocations released from 2007/08. These are the most up to date figures available which allow us to compare local authority performance. Among Inner London local authorities Southwark is placed 11th of 14, with 17% of all its allocations being appealed.

After much pressure from local MP’s, parents and Labour councillors, Southwark is finally putting some extra resources into its admissions team. I hope this will help to boost the council’s performance, but we must be vigilant to ensure that we do not see a repeat of this year’s debacle.

Southwark's Lib Dems are clearly struggling to administer the primary schools admission process competently. I suspect this is more cock-up than conspiracy, but that doesn't make it any less harrowing for parents when things go wrong. Your Peckham Rye Labour candidates will be keeping a VERY close eye on this issue, keeping the pressure on for some much needed improvement in the council's handling of this service.

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