Shortage in Walsall secondary school places provokes concerns

There are hundreds more applications for secondary school places in Walsall than the borough currently has space for.

A total of 4,496 pupils have applied for Year 7 entry this Autumn but there are only 3,719 places available according to figures obtained by a Freedom of Information request.

While 589 hopefuls came from outside of the borough, it leaves 188 pupils living within Walsall applying for additional places.

However Councillor Aftab Nawaz, portfolio holder for children’s services and education at Walsall Council, said all pupils in Walsall would be found a place.

He said: “Of course the gap is a concern but it is something that is happening in most places across the country.

"It has been a problem for a number of years and with impending Government cuts to schools it could get worse.

"As a council we will always try and match a parent’s first preference and if that is impossible then their second.”

Politicians have expressed concerns at the situation while some have pointed the finger at academies saying schools should be under the control of the local authority.

Walsall Councillor Chris Towe, who was children’s services boss in 2015/16 under the previous administration, said: “This does surprise me.

"It was not a problem for me during my time as portfolio holder. You have got to consider things like population increases, but now less secondary schools are under the local authority control.

“Clearly children have got to be found a place, you can’t have children not having a school.”

Walsall North Labour MP David Winnick also declared academies were part of the problem.

He added: “There is a lot of pressure on schools to take pupils and obviously I receive letters from parents who want their children to go to a particular school that is oversubscribed.

"I do not think free schools and academies are the answer as there is no accountability. Schools should be run by the local authority.”

Former council leader Mike Bird told the Express & Star that Barr Beacon School, rated ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted and where he is governor, typically receives twice the number of applicants than available places.

He stated all schools should be ‘Good’ or better in the borough to ensure children had a chance of sound education.

Walsall Council confirmed that as of March 1, the national secondary offer date, 74.5 per cent of children in the borough, whose parents submitted applications on time, were offered their first choice, while 94 per cent were offered one of their preferred schools.

The authority’s website states: “We always try to meet a parent’s first preference, but sometimes more applications for places are received than the school has places available. When this happens we will try to offer your next highest preference. We are under a duty to offer your child a place in a school, and if we cannot meet any of your preferences, we will offer you a place in the nearest school with spaces available.”

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Comments for: "Shortage in Walsall secondary school places provokes concerns"

Pete Smith

As a former Walsall Councillor, I recognise immediately when a statement in the name of the Portfolio holder (in this case Children's Services and Education) is actually most probably written by one of his Senior Officers.

It is not good enough for Cllr. Nawaz to state that all pupils in Walsall will be "found a place" (in a Secondary school).......... as the last minute replacement for the Portfolio holder who has resigned her post (Cllr. Burley)...he seems happy to be quoted in words that seem to be Council Officers words, defending a system that is not robustly challenged by ELECTED COUNCILLORS.

We want Councillors, especially those receiving almost £20,000 EXTRA allowances (on top of their £10,500 Council allowances) for their Portfolio responsibilities, to be CHALLENGING and CRITICAL of the system rather than mere puppets for the highly paid full time Council Officers who pull their strings and in many cases, write their "newspaper quotes" for them. Rather than defending a system that is often indefensible, the leading Councillors should be defending and fighting for those children who are denied a place at their chosen school. They should be exposing the fact that the reality is that MOST Parents do not have a choice of schools but merely a chance to express a preference of schools. It is only those parents with the money to chose to BUY properties in the RIGHT catchment areas of particular schools that have a real choice.

Time that Portfolio holders, (sadly in this case Labour) like Cllr. Nawaz, began to articulate this real truth instead of being a willing mouthpiece for OFFICERS under his authority,

Pete Smith

Blakenall ward resident and former Councillor (Walsall)

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