Woman refused place at nearby primary school slams Merton system
A woman refused a primary school place for her daughter at a school 270m from her doorstep has said the council’s allocation system is "fundamentally flawed".
Despite living just minutes from Bishops Gilpin School and Dundonald Primary, Umbar Shakir, 35, of Woodside in Wimbledon, was refused a place for her four-year-old daughter, Lana.
Instead, she was offered places at either Merton Abbey Primary or Garfield Primary School, both more than half an hour walk away.
She said: "I work hard and I should be able to choose where I live.
"I expect there to be a local school and to be able to walk my daughter to school.
"I pay my council tax for that reason."
As a single parent working full time in the city, Miss Shakir said she would have to pay up to £1,100 a month for a private childminder to get her daughter to school on time - before going to work herself.
But she said that would leave her £5 a month after rent and bills because as she earns more than £26,000 working as a management consultant, she is not entitled to any benefits.
She said: "I’m absolutely demoralised and the feel all my pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
"They gave me the number of the Citizen’s Advice Bureau because they could see I was going to get into debt and that just made me cry.
"I’m grateful I live in a nice area and have a good job, so I can’t imagine what people in worse off situations than me do."
When allocating school places, priority is first given to children in public care, then children with a medical need to attend a particular school, then children with siblings at the school already, and finally all other children in order of nearness to the school.
But with many primary schools oversubscribed and shrinking catchment areas, even parents a stone’s throw from their local school are finding there is no guarantee of a place.
This year, Dundonald Primary received a total of 436 applications, 211 of which were first or second preferences, for just 30 places, 10 of which were allocated to siblings of children already at the school, and has the smallest catchment area of all Merton schools with the furthest place offered to a child just 217m away.
Merton Council needs to find up to 240 additional reception places by 2014, eight new classes, if it is to keep up with the increasing birth rate within the borough.
Councillor Martin Whelton, cabinet member for education, said he was looking at options for school expansion at existing schools but that there were no plans at this time to build a new primary school.
He said: "I hugely sympathise with the situation [Miss Shakir) faces - it’s why the Labour administration is trying to expand Dundonald School.
"If you are more than 250m from the school you cannot get into it which makes it incredibly difficult in terms of getting school places because we have such a huge demand.”
Farthest distance place offered:-
Shortest - Dundonald Primary - 217m
Merton Park Primary - 252m
Longest - Aragon Primary - 3,296m