Tower Hamlets tackles ‘school places’ crisis after 1,000 don’t get first choice

A new admission system for East End primary schools is being brought in next year to meet the crisis of children unable to get places at their first choice.

It comes in the wake of criticism by an MP that 1,000 youngsters are failing to get into their preferred primary or secondary schools in Tower Hamlets.

“In my view, that’s 1,000 too many,” Poplar & Limehouse MP Jim Fitzpatrick told the Advertiser. “School places have been a hot topic in the East End and for a good reason—not enough is being done to make sure pupils get their first preference.”

Town Hall education chiefs predict a 38 per cent rise in the school-age population in the next 10 years, which the MP fears might overwhelm the system.

“We’ve got a government cutting and a council which only has plans for one new secondary school and extending others,” he added.

“Tower Hamlets is spending �1.2 million busing children across the borough—this cost will go up while numbers of pupils getting their first preference will go down, if we don’t plan ahead.”

The local authority, meanwhile, says next year’s admissions changes recognise pressure on school places, especially “the acute deficit of primary places” around Mile End and Bow.

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Its cabinet agreed earlier this month to convert council buildings for school use.

The Mile End adult learning centre is being turned back to its original use as a school after several decades to meet the shortage of places. A new intake is planned as early as January with temporary classes to start with.

Bow Secondary’s present site is also being turned over to primary schooling after it moves out next year.

The new admission system from next September will give families “a fairer chance” of getting a place by using geographical ‘priority’ catchment areas and a tie-break method of the nearest alternative instead of distance measurement, says the council.

This will make sure families are not disadvantaged if they live slightly further out from their chosen school.

Cllr Oliur Rahman, lead member for Children’s Services, said: “We have now implemented a fairer system for all families.”

Figures reveal that 86 per cent got their first choice primary last year, compared to the 79 per pent London average, while 94 per cent secured one of their top three choices.