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Last Updated: Monday, 19 July, 2004, 10:05 GMT 11:05 UK
'Too young to commute'
By Justin Parkinson
BBC News Online education staff

Liz Crane's living room is chock-a-block with toys.

Liz Crane and her children
Liz Crane is demanding the creation of more school places

The cars, building blocks and dolls are a colourful reminder of the cares of motherhood.

Her workload should be reduced this September, when her eldest child, three-year-old Sophie, starts school.

But life for Liz and dozens of other parents in the north London suburb of Muswell Hill is not set to be so simple.

Despite living within half a mile of three primaries, the family home does not fall within any of their catchment areas.

Sophie has been allocated a place in another school, one-and-a-half miles away.

Nightmarish car - or bus - journeys beckon, with Liz's other daughter, one-year-old Natasha, in tow.

So Liz has formed the Muswell Hill Schools Crisis Group. It wants the council to create more pupil places nearby.

Liz told BBC News Online: "It's not like choosing a secondary school, because 11 year olds have a bit of independence. These are four year olds.

"If one child in a family goes to a school, the others usually follow. It could mean some of us taking the same car journey there every day for 10 years."

Baby boom

Muswell Hill, popular with young families, has seen something of a baby boom during recent years. In 2000, the birth rate rose by 6.4%.

The area comes under the control of Haringey Council, whose legal obligation is to provide a school place for all children within the borough.

It has managed this, but it entails many Muswell Hill families sending their children to other parts of Haringey, like Wood Green and Tottenham, up to three miles away.

One of Liz's 70 fellow campaigners, Karen Whitfield, faces a daily drive when son Sam, four, starts school in September. She also has a one-year-old daughter, Isabel, to take along.

The government wants children to walk to school, but four year olds can't be expected to walk one-and-a-half miles
Karen Whitfield, mother

Karen, a housewife, said: "It could take up to half an hour by road. The age of four is too early to start commuting.

"It also means the children won't be going to school in their community. It's nice to have friends who see each other in the street.

"This way, all their connections will be with friends from different parts of London."

She added: "This runs counter to official policy. The government wants children to walk to school, but four year olds can't be expected to walk one-and-a-half miles."

Liz, who runs a childminding business in her home, said: "The school where Sophie is being sent has a map of the local area in the entrance hall, but where we live is not even on it. How's that going to make her feel?

"People are extremely angry that Haringey Council knew the birth rate had risen and didn't do anything."

The parents hope more spaces will be created in nearby schools from September 2005.

Pressure

The council has promised to expand the reception class in one of them, but from 2007.

Liz thinks Natasha, who will then be four, will not benefit, as younger siblings are usually assigned to the same school as their older brothers or sisters.

She said: "The council is hoping the problem will go away. We have to keep the pressure up."

The parents are due to meet Haringey's executive member for education, George Meehan, in July.

He said: "The local education authority is aware of the concerns of parents and carers regarding the allocation of primary places in the Muswell Hill area.

"We are doing everything possible to address admissions pressures on what are very popular schools.

"We understand how difficult it is for parents if their children do not get into the school of their choice and are constantly keeping the school places situation under review."


SEE ALSO:
'One-stop shop' for school places
22 Jun 04  |  Education
Tories promise school choice
15 Jun 04  |  Education
Infant class sizes rise
20 Nov 02  |  Education


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