“No parental choice” in Bedford’s “oversubscribed” secondary schools claims parent

(Photograph taken pre-Covid)

A Bedford parent has raised concerns that there aren’t enough year 7 secondary school places in Bedfordshire.

The parent, who asked to remain anonymous, says they have been left frustrated by the struggle to secure her son, who has special educational needs, a suitable secondary school place.

She believes schools are oversubscribed and that there is a strong case for adding extra classes and building more schools.

There is a “lack of parental choice when children fail to get either their first or second choices”, she said.

Her son is in year 6, and has special educational needs. She says she applied for three schools but did not get any of them.

“He’s the sort of child who won’t learn in any school, he’ll get lost in somewhere massive.

“I’m sure of that as his parent and I just think this will be the difference between him coming out with a good education at the end and not.’’

Although she did not apply for the catchment area school, this was the one they were allocated.

‘’There’s just no parental choice whatsoever,” she said.

“What was the point in me applying for schools at all if they were only ever gonna give me the catchment school?

“It’s not like I’ve said ‘right, here are my three schools, here’s my first second and third’ and they’ve given me the third, they’ve not given me any of the ones I’ve chosen.’’

Appeal unsuccessful

An initial appeal against the decision was unsuccessful but the family have a second appeal pending for another school but are not holding out much hope.

She’s now challenging the process and asking Bedford Borough Council to look at the way they allocate school places.

“The catchment school keep referring to themselves as ‘oversubscribed’ but I’m one of the people who are oversubscribing them, and I didn’t choose that,” she adds.

“They’re not oversubscribed by choice… the local authority are sending children there who potentially applied for other schools.

“In a lot of cases, it’s more than 30 [pupils per class], so there is the want from parents for schools that are full and small, and we’re being sent to big schools, that have spaces, that we don’t want.’’

“They should look at these numbers and put more classes in those schools that are really popular.”

Looking at data on Bedford Borough Council’s ‘Transfer to Secondary School’ web page, the Bedford Independent found that many schools were oversubscribed in terms of the number of applicants versus available places:

Transfer to Secondary School (Year 7) – September 2021

The site explains the table as showing ‘the number of requests for places for the Year 7 intake at each of the secondary schools/academies and the number of places that have been offered in accordance with the published admissions arrangements.

‘This will give you an indication of the level of oversubscription, which you may find helpful if we have been unable to offer you a place at your preferred school(s), because your application was not high enough on the list for admission.’

The figures show:

  • Sharnbrook Academy had the highest number of applicants at 334. 270 places were offered.
  • Bedford Academy had 274 requests for 232 places.
  • Goldington had 230 requests and offered 186 places.
  • Wixams Academy had the largest disparity with 236 applicants and 150 places being offered.

We asked Bedford Borough Council about the parent’s concerns.

A spokesperson said: “Every child in the Borough has a school place and Bedford Borough is above the national average for children being offered a place at their 1st preference school.

“All on-time applications from families living in Bedford Borough that did not secure a place at their first preference were offered a place at either their second preference, their designated catchment school or nearest school with places available.

“Whichever school in Bedford Borough a child attends, they will receive a good education in a safe and secure environment.”

Their 2021 offer day figures seen by the Bedford Independent also show the council had 2,079 applicants for places this year.

1,780 children (85.62% of applicants) got their first choice of school. This is nearly 4% higher than the national average at around 82%.169 children got their second choice and 42 their third.

The remaining 88 children (who did not get first or second choices) were given their designated catchment school or the nearest school with places available.

The councils statistics state that the number of children who have not been allocated places at all is zero.

Expansion plans on hold

But the parent says schools that have the plans to expand have been unable to due to COVID and this is also now likely to impact education.

“It feels like the Borough doesn’t have enough school places and [Wixams Academy] expansion plans have been put back… this year group are suffering as a consequence of that.

“I know it’s difficult, but I don’t see why COVID should put those plans back. You expand a school based on talking to each other and having meetings and you can do that virtually.’’

We approached Wixams Academy numerous times for comment but did not hear back before deadline.

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