Leeds families in limbo as primary school places crisis starts to bite

Nicola Barker and her daughter Aleesha.
Nicola Barker and her daughter Aleesha.
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THE mother of a special needs child says her four-year old daughter will be forced to leave the house at 6am every morning to catch the first of two buses to school, after she failed to get a place at her nearest suitable school.

Another worried Leeds mum has been forced to home school her six year old child for a year because all three of her local primaries are full.

Evie Wilkinson of Methley

Evie Wilkinson of Methley

The YEP has reported recently that the city faces a potential shortfall of more than 4,000 early years school slots within three years as education bosses try to tackle a booming birth rate and population increase.

But desperate parents contacted the YEP after failing to be allocated slots in their nearest or chosen schools for the new school year starting this September.

While city education bosses insist every child in the city does have an allocated school place, they admit they are “acutely aware of the pressure” on spaces.

Four-year old Evie Wilkinson, who has special learning needs, is due to start reception in September but has not got a place at her nearest school in Methley.

She has been offered a place in Allerton Bywater, but as her mum Clare Lewis does not drive, she says she would have to leave the house before 6am every morning to catch the first of two buses.

Miss Lewis said: “All the places have gone but she should have got in because she has special needs and that school is the only one that has a speech therapist coming in.

”She is ninth on the waiting list.

“She may have to go to a private nursery part time. At Methley she would have started full days Monday to Friday. I fear her development will be held back.”

Miss Lewis acknowledged she had only put one school down as a preference when applying, when the recommendation to parents is to choose three.

Nicola Barker moved to Halton Moor from York with her three primary school aged children in 2013 in search of better job prospects.

But the single mum has been forced to home school her six year old daughter Aleesha for the past year because the first year entry groups of all three of her preferred and nearest primary schools are oversubscribed.

Nicola, 29, says she is unable to go to work as long as the school limbo continues.

She explained that Aleesha is on top of the waiting lists of Corpus Christi Primary, Meadowfield Primary and Temple Newsam, her local schools.

Her two other primary-age children, Teah, eight, and Hayden, four, have places at Meadowfield.

Aleesha has been offered a place at another school which is three miles way, however Miss Barker says that the logistics with the other children mean it is virtually impossible for the family to manage.

Miss Barker, who does not drive, says she is not willing to let her six-year-old travel on the bus alone or walk three miles, and is left in a real dilemma.

“My other two children go to Meadowfield school so obviously I would prefer her to go here, but would like any of the nearest schools,” she said.

“None of the local schools would accept her at all, saying they were full.

“Obviously I can’t go out to work while Aleesha is at home.

“We have got to re-apply in September now, it’s a joke.

“Hopefully people will notice and they will start building new schools or expanding them.

“I know they are doing it but they really need to do it faster.”

A Leeds City Council spokeswoman said: “Whilst we don’t discuss individual cases, it is important that all parents follow the correct procedures, and meet deadlines when applying for school places for their children. This will give them the best chance of being allocated a place at one of their preferred schools.”

The YEP understands that all children who applied for a place on time in Leeds have been allocated one. The council stresses that parents who are not happy with the school their child has been allocated have the right to appeal and can be placed on a waiting list for a preferred school.

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‘We are trying our best to tackle shortage of school spaces’

CITY EDUCATION bosses say they are trying hard to tackle the school places crisis.

Councillor Judith Blake, Leeds city council’s cabinet spokeswoman for education and children’s services, told the YEP today: “We are acutely aware of the pressure on primary school places across the city and have been working hard to mitigate the impact of rising pupil numbers across the city.

“We have an ongoing city-wide school expansion programme in place to meet the increased demand for primary-age places. We have been working closely with schools and using flexible measures to create more places where they are needed.”

She insisted that the expansions programme was helping to ensure that “we do have sufficient places for children starting school in September 2014”.

Meanwhile, while many of the city’s council-run schools are oversubscribed, there are currently dozens of places available at several ‘free’ schools, which are Government-funded schools run by independent trusts rather than the local authority.

Figures obtained by the YEP show that Khalsa Science Academy, a Sikh-ethos school in Chapeltown, has 17 vacancies, with just 13 places allocated. The Leeds Jewish Free School in Alwoodley has 16 vacancies, with just nine places allocated, and there are also eight vacancies at the nearby Brodetsky school. The newly opened Gorse Academy, a secondary free school in South Leeds, has five vacancies with 90 children allocated places.

The shortage of school places has become a political football in recent months, with the council claiming to be hampered by Government policy - and its emphasis on free schools - from building new schools.

However opponents have claimed the previous Labour Government’s closure of many primary schools, and “appalling planning” by councils, is ultimately to blame.

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