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Poor ‘lose in primary schools scramble’

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Higher rated schools tend to be located in wealthier areas

The poorest people are losing out on places at the best primary schools in England, research suggests on the day parents receive news of allocations.

The least wealthy families have less than half the chance of the wealthiest of sending a child to a top-rated school, analysis from Teach First says.

The teacher training group adds poorer families’ children are four times more likely to be at weaker schools.

The government says many more pupils are now in good or outstanding schools.

The claim comes as councils say they will need 336,000 more school places by 2024.

And as the crunch in primary school provision intensifies, council leaders in some areas say the scramble for places at good schools is even more acute.

‘Filled up’

In Milton Keynes, where there are twice as many pupils going into reception as will be leaving sixth form, council leader Peter Marland says his officials are working hard to keep pace with demand.

It is one of the biggest areas for house building in England, so schools are being built to cater for the occupants of new housing.

But, he says, these schools are fast being filled up by children already living in the city, who cannot get a place nearer their homes.

Cllr Marland says not only are more children travelling further to take up school places, but those from less affluent backgrounds are at a disadvantage in an increasingly complex admissions system.

He says: “Unless schools, or someone, steps into coaching the poorest families on admissions, then it’s those from affluent backgrounds that will get the good places.”

Teach First analysed data on Ofsted rankings for all schools in England and mapped it against the areas with the poorest children living in them.

The report explains that schools serving poorer communities are less likely to be rated good or outstanding as they face more challenges because of the nature of their pupils.

This means that families from such areas can find it difficult to get places in highly-rated schools.

Teach First suggests recruiting more highly qualified teachers and school leaders in these areas could be a solution.

‘The right place’

The research comes as local authorities, who oversee school admissions, are informing parents where their children have been offered places.

The Local Government Association says they have been striving to meet their duty to find a school place for all children in their area.

They had created an extra 300,000 primary places since 2010, but this had mostly been achieved within the 85% of primary schools that are council-maintained.

Places had been created converting non-classroom areas, increasing class sizes and diverting money away from vital school repair programmes to create more space.

Chairman of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, Cllr Roy Perry, said: “It isn’t just about a place for a child, but the right place.”

He also expressed concerns about how the needs of vulnerable children will be met under an education system where all schools are academies and operate outside the local authority network.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “Despite rising pupil numbers, 95.9% of parents in England received an offer at one of their top three preferred primary schools in 2015.

“Our White Paper reforms will ensure we continue to spread excellence everywhere by putting control in the hands of the teachers and school leaders who know their pupils best, alongside new measures to more swiftly tackle failing and coasting schools.

“As well as this we are backing schemes like Teach First and the National Teaching Service to get great teachers where they are most needed.”

Leader of the National Union of Teachers, Christine Blower, said: “Securing a school place for your child should be a straightforward and anxiety-free process.

“Due to the complete negligence of government, however, it is not and many parents will be disappointed today.”

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