Mark Lancaster MP

15 DEC 2010

The Government has pledged to review the school admissions system after Mark Lancaster outlined the chaos in Milton Keynes.

The Government has pledged to review the school admissions system after Mark Lancaster outlined the chaos in Milton Keynes.

The city MP called an adjournment debate on Monday on the 'sore subject', after being inundated with complaints about children sitting at home for months, awaiting school places.

Many pupils have been allocated places at schools across the other side of the city, turning them into 'juvenile commuters, reading bus timetables rather than textbooks', the Milton Keynes North MP said.

Therefore, he was delighted to hear from Nick Gibb MP that, following his speech, the schools minister was 'convinced that we have to look again at this issue'.

Mr Lancaster told colleagues in the House of Commons Chamber about the problem with 'in-year' admissions to secondary schools, with the Radcliffe School in Wolverton taking the burden of the city's scarcity of places.

Because new schools have filled up with pupils from across MK before new estates are built around them, there are not places for families moving in, he argued.

Moreover, the creation of the fantastic new Milton Keynes Academy, with a smaller intake than its predecessor, has actually displaced people moving into its catchment within the school year.

From September, local authorities were charged with coordinating in-year admissions, creating an extra layer of bureaucracy. While the Government recommends a five-day turnaround in allocation, parents in Milton Keynes have seen up to six weeks' wait.

Of the 327 in-year secondary applicants this year, 120 did not get any of their three choices.

Radcliffe headteacher John O'Donnell is dealing with a surge in allocations; a staggering 119 of the 140 he is dealing with are not from the school's catchment area.

Having to commute to school, sometimes via three buses, means a drop in after-school activities, attendance and engagement.

He also described two sisters, who, despite living across the road from Ousedale School in Newport Pagnell, were offered places at the Olney campus or Radcliffe.

Another pupil in Olney was offered a place at Radcliffe, and a taxi twice a day to take him there, which costs the council around £2,875 a year.

Mr Lancaster emphasised how important it is for schools to serve their local areas.

He said: "Once they are 18, many [pupils] seem to pick a university that gets them as far away as possible – or a continent that takes them even further afield on their gap year. But most school kids just want to walk to school with their mates."

He added: "I would argue that a good basis for the big society is schooling children in their own communities."

Fellow Milton Keynes MP Iain Stewart, also inundated with complaints on the matter, pointed out how this is a problem for primary schools as well.

After the debate Mr Lancaster added: "I am delighted that the Government has decided to rethink its school admissions system following the massive problems in Milton Keynes. I hope by describing the problem, and offering some recommendations for improvement, we can ensure that future pupils are not blighted by the delays and distances. The last thing we want is children sitting at home or having to travel miles every day."

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