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Monday, 23 April, 2001, 13:31 GMT 14:31 UK
'Chaos' fear over Tory places policy
Dale, Wellingborough
Children are "stuck at home" without a school place
Thousands of pupils could be left without school places under the Conservatives' plans to give individual schools control over admissions, says a head teachers' leader.

The comments follow a school places dispute in Wellingborough in Northamptonshire which has left 20 pupils without any local school to attend.

And John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, says that the implementation of the Conservatives' "free schools" policy would be "a recipe for chaos" which would create admissions problems across the country.

John Dunford
John Dunford says disputes over admissions are a growing problem for parents and schools
The dispute in Wellingborough concerns "foundation" schools, which control their own admissions policies and which are outside the control of the local education authority.

Mr Dunford says that if this independence was extended to all state schools, as proposed by the Conservatives, there would be thousands of pupils who would be left without places.

Guaranteed places

But the Conservatives reject such claims as "complete nonsense", saying that there would still be assurances for parents that every child would be guaranteed a place.

A Conservative spokesman said that under the free school system, local education authorities would still be obliged to ensure that every child had a school place.

Theresa May
Theresa May has promised to give all schools freedom over admissions
If at the end of the applications process, no school had accepted a pupil, the local authority could over-rule individual schools and require them to take a pupil.

And the Conservatives are angered that what they claim is an example of a Labour local authority's "mismanagement" of schools places is being used in an attack on their free schools policy.

The difficulties in Wellingborough were a "Labour-created problem", said a spokesman, caused by the closure of a school and the failure to provide sufficient places.

Stress

But looking beyond the specifics of the case in Wellingborough, head teachers' leader Mr Dunford said that admissions disputes were causing an increasing number of problems for schools.

The number of appeals against admissions decisions has risen sharply in recent years - and Mr Dunford says that many schools have to spend "substantial amounts of time" on the admissions and appeals processes.

And he also points to the stress involved for children, parents and school staff in the admission and rejection of pupils seeking places.

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See also:

22 Apr 01 | Education
Twenty denied school places
14 Jul 00 | Education
Admissions disputes keep climbing
06 Mar 01 | Education
Heads back local authorities
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