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Friday, 15 March, 2002, 12:15 GMT
Parents get political over school places
Kender School, New Cross
Parents have met often to discuss the issue
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By Sean Coughlan
BBC News Online
line

Parents have formed their own political party to campaign for the overhaul of the "nightmarish" chase for secondary school places.

They say that the mainstream parties have failed to take seriously the stress and frustration faced by families trying to negotiate the admissions systems for secondary schools.

Louise Irvine
Local GP Louise Irvine wants a "real voice" for parents
And the Lewisham-based party is campaigning for the opening of a new non-selective school which would relieve the shortage of places in the south London borough.

The newly-founded party, Local Education Action by Parents, is to field candidates in the forthcoming local council elections in the London Borough of Lewisham.

"There is no apathy among voters - it's just that people have lost confidence in the political process. We want to reclaim democracy, putting the constituents first," said spokesperson, Louise Irvine.

"Politicians are always talking about education, using the most emotive language to show that they care. But it's all hollow and they find so many ways of not hearing what we're saying."

"The education system is geared towards the producers and not the consumers. It can be pre-occupied by schools, but not children. There's no check on parental satisfaction and no real voice for parents."

Candidates

It is expected that about six candidates will stand and the party hopes that this will begin a process of local politics responding to practical issues, rather than the "control freakery" of party politics.

"Local politics should be turbulent and vibrant, not a one-party state," said Ms Irvine, who anticipated the setting up of other interest-group parties, such as tenants.

The founding of the party, which held its inaugural meeting this week, follows longstanding concerns over the lack of places in parts of the capital.

Ms Irvine said that at the beginning of the last summer holidays, about 100 children were still without places.

"People can say it's shroud waving to talk about the level of stress that this can cause, but it's a real problem," says Ms Irivine, who is a local family doctor.

Confusing

The party is campaigning for a reform of the complex and often confusing ways in which schools allocate places.

Comprehensive, specialist, faith-based and foundation schools can all operate in the same area, but apply different admissions rules.

"There is a lack of accountability, transparency or even predictability. It becomes a lottery," she said.

The offering of places to the most able pupils by selective schools also distorted the intake of other schools, she said, leaving them with more students from lower ability ranges.

The party will also be campaigning on other education issues, including school improvement, bullying and exclusions.

Formally registering as a party allows the campaigners to have the name of the party included on the ballot paper, whereas candidates standing as independents would have only their names.

See also:

11 Jul 01 | Education
Parents angry over school places
24 Apr 01 | Education
Admissions cost school 20,000
18 Apr 00 | Hot Topics
Schools choose, not parents
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