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Shortage in Walsall secondary school places provokes concerns

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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.

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"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.

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"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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