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Theresa May pledges to push for answers as secondary school places row continues

The Piggott School
The Piggott School Picture: Sue Corcoran

MP Theresa May is weighing into the battle for places at a school where 159 children are on the waiting list.

Nearly 60 of those children live in the secondary school’s catchment area but do not have a sibling already there.

Upset and frustrated, parents are continuing their fight to get their children into their local school, The Piggott, on the Wargrave/Twyford boundary.

Instead of the Piggott, children have been given places outside their community, including Waingels College, Woodley and the Forest, Winnersh.

Meanwhile children at the new Charvil Primary, part of The Piggott seniors academy, have automatic right to places there. They are officially one school.

And 15 children in Crazies Hill Primary designated area within Wokingham borough also have guaranteed places. Many children at Colleton School, Twyford have been denied Piggott places.

The Piggott has offered 203 children places. Wokingham Borough Council children’s services are working with the school and others, aiming to create extra spaces, said Councillor Wayne Smith (Con, Hurst).

Ward councillor and council leader John Halsall (Cons, Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe) said the council had little influence on academies’ admissions. “Our role is not one of management but cajoling, encouraging and entreating,” he said.

Twyford area parents were left frustrated after a borough council meeting to discuss the problems.

They’d drawn up questions for the meeting, but were unhappy with the lack of answers and information in a letter sent out last weekend.

The councillors were lead for Wokingham Borough Children’s Services, Ullakarin Clark (Con, Emmbrook), Cllr Halsall, Councillor Smith, Lindsay Ferris (Lib Dem, Twyford), Stephen Conway (Lib Dem, Twyford) and Emma Hobbs (Con, Charvil).

Also at the online meeting on Friday, March 5 was MP Mrs May.

Her spokesperson said: “Theresa did attend that meeting and had expected to be updated by the Council after the meeting.

“Having now seen the letter to parents she will be taking the issue of secondary school places locally up with the Council again.”

A concerned parent said Cllr Smith had asked to be sent the parents’ questions. “We assumed he would ask them. It appears that a number … had not been asked or answered at the meeting.”

This was frustrating for them, as was the fact there were no answers earlier this week. Parents said they felt that this year, when so many children were affected, they were not getting the extra help to secure places they needed.

“The joint letter was vague and just asked us to be patient but this does not take into account how this process has and will affect us. There should have been proper planning for the population bulge they knew was coming,” added the parent.

The letter, they said,  didn’t tell them anything they didn’t already know.

“The parents are still feeling frustrated as the process is slow, which we understand, but it means we can’t plan for next academic year.

“None of this is of our making but our children are the victims of it.

“All the parents are following the correct procedure which is adding them to the wait list if need be but preparing to appeal.

“We have started to find out our places on the wait list and many are over number 30 on the list so preparing their appeals and feeling more concerned.

“People are dispirited.”

Replies to the parents

Cllr UllaKarin Clark, executive member for children’s services at Wokingham Borough Council, said: “Our school admissions team continue to work with schools, families and other partners to deal with the challenges in availability for September.

“We will provide updates to families who have requested wait list positions as promptly as possible. Parents have the right of appeal where they can present their individual case for a place at the preferred school.”

A council spokesperson said numbers for waiting lists and number of children in each oversubscription group were in the ‘secondary school allocation summary 2021’ document on this webpage: www.wokingham.gov.uk/schools-and-education/school-admissions/starting-secondary-school-age-11/

The Piggot details include: “These children (who have not been given places) have been provisionally placed on the waiting list pending confirmation from parents that they wish to remain on the waiting list for the school.”

The spokesperson said on the parents’ questions: “I understand we have responded to these now or a response is on the way to them.”

Cllr Smith said that before the meeting he had sent parents’ questions to Children’s Services to answer.

Some questions were very detailed and others too personal to discuss at the meeting.

“There were a lot of people on that (meeting) call. The most important thing was to express parents’ concerns, look at the numbers and see what else the council could do to help the situation,” he said.

“The borough council has no control over academies for admissions. We have to work with them.”

He added that he understood how frustrated everybody was.

Cllr Halsall said that in the past 10 years secondary place difficulties had been resolved to the satisfaction of all parties.

“I have every sympathy with parents but we have to allow the process to go its course,” he said.

Cllr Conway said he had not known about the parents’ questions at the time of the meeting.

“Strenuous efforts are being made to accommodate as many children who wanted to go to The Piggott as possible,” he said.

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