VIDEO: North Leeds parents stage rally over school places - as Ministers seek answers from the council

PARENTS in Leeds who say they are living in a school places blackhole have staged a rally to highlight their campaign today as it emerged that Education Secretary Nicky Morgan is seeking talks with council bosses over the situation.

Monday, 18th May 2015, 5:03 pm
Parents protest outside Leeds' Civic Hall over school places "blackhole." Photo: James Hardisty

A group of around 80 parents in the Roundhay, Moortown and Alwoodley areas of the city have joined forces after claiming they had no chance of getting into any of their nearest primary schools from this September.

Dozens gathered in the city centre at noon to make their voices heard.

They say they are living in a places blackhole where lots of pupils did not have a chance of getting into a local school and they are now demanding answers from the council.

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Parents protest outside Leeds' Civic Hall over school places "blackhole." Photo: James Hardisty

The council said it was working closely with all schools in the areas to find “the best possible solutions.”

It emerged this evening that the Mrs Morgan is planning to have talks with Leeds City Council’s leader over the situation.

And one of the parents involved in the campaign has also received an email from George Osborne’s office saying that the Department for Education is planning to commission a study into how Leeds City Council used “the significant funding allocated to them over the last five years” for school places.

The rally was staged to coincide with the deadline for parents wanting to appeal their allocated primary school place.

Campaigner Beccy Rayner, from Roundhay said: “The turnout was very good, we made a lot of noise and we were able to tell people about our situation.

“Most of us didn’t know each other before this but have come together because we have discovered we are all in a similar situation.

“The latest email we have had from the council’s chief executive today says that they are aware of the situation and discussions are ongoing but it just makes think: ‘How are these discussions still ongoing? Why is this still happening now? The council had the numbers. They knew about this problem. Before the applications started there are around 130 parents who will have received letters from the council telling them Talbot Primary was their nearest school. That’s a whole school intake worth of children who were not going to get a place there.” She said the fact that the campaign group exists shows the council has failed to deal with the pressure on school places in their neighbourhoods this year.

“They say they have offered 180 additional places in Moortown and Roundhay in the past five years but that has clearly not been enough.” she added.

Parents on the campaign group’s Facebook site say they received an email from council chief executive Tom Riordan which says talks are ongoing with four local primary schools - three of which would prove “particularly effective at solving the problem.” However it adds that all have very real practical constraints.

On National Offer Day Leeds City Council announced that 85 per cent of parents had been allocated a place at their first choice primary school. It said that of the 550 parents who were not offered a place at any of their preferences 427 had not chosen their nearest schools.

Parents in North Leeds came together after discovering around 80 parents who said they had applied to local schools but were not given any of their preferences.

Talks with Leeds City Council and Gledhow Primary resulted in the school agreeing to take on another 30 pupils this September – bringing forward an expansion which had been due to happen in 2016.

Coun Judith Blake Leeds City Council’s executive member for children and families, said: “We remain very sympathetic to the concerns raised with us by parents regarding primary school admissions in parts of north Leeds, and are continuing to look at all options to find the best possible solutions.

“We are working closely with all schools in the areas involved and with officers across the council to bring this to a conclusion. We do understand why some parents are unhappy with their school allocation but we are faced with some very genuine practical constraints which take time to resolve. When assessing all applications we are bound by the Admissions Code and must always follow its guidance.

“Due to legislative changes the local authority no longer has the power to open new community schools or is able to have a say over the location of free schools, all of which can potentially have an impact on school admission places.”

Reacting to the Government’s intervention in the row, Coun Blake added: “The Department for Education has already conducted an analysis of our spending on basic need and determined that it was good value for money.

“However, we would welcome the opportunity to discuss the issue of school places and allocations with the minister.”