LESSONS return for thousands of Hampshire children today after the summer holidays – but 70 children in Southampton are starting the term without a place at school.
And an overcrowding crisis means more than 200 other Southampton children will this week begin their primary or secondary education at schools their parents did not choose.
Problems with the bursting-at-theseams system mean five per cent of the 2,900 city mums and dads who applied for reception places will be taking their little ones to schools that are further away or with worse reputations than the ones they wanted.
But council bosses say urgent work to create new school places around the city is having an impact, and has dramatically cut problems.
Last year, 75 Southampton children were left without a primary school to go to for up to two months after the start of term. A further 20 youngsters whose parents had submitted applications late had to wait until November to be allocated a spot.
This year, 42 reception age children have not got a place.
Some of their parents have said they will privately educate the youngsters, go outside the city, or have simply not responded to letters from the council.
Sixteen children whose parents turned down the council’s offer are in stalemate situation.
They were among the 145 applicants who were not allocated a reception spot at any of the three schools they asked for – but the rest accepted the council’s school choice.
Another 26 aged 5-7 have not yet got a place in Year 1 or 2 classes either, although Southampton City Council hopes places will quickly become available as term gets under way.
And two youngsters are still without a secondary school place because their parents rejected the Year 7 spots offered to them. They were among 57 parents unsuccessful with any of their three choices.
The council has increased the number of reception year places in the city to 3,030 for this term, as part of its work to create 3,000 new places at 20 primary schools in the next six years.
However, overcrowding meant just 82.1 per cent of applications in Southampton for this year saw parents given their first choice primary school.
That is compared to the situation in Hampshire, where 89.9 per cent of the more than 20,000 applicants were awarded first preferences. There are no children in the county who have not been allocated a place at all.
The county council has installed temporary classrooms at several schools to cope with increased pupil numbers, with the Department for Education last term reporting almost a quarter of county primaries – 101 of 426 – were running over capacity.
Hampshire’s education boss Cllr Roy Perry has demanded the Government gives more cash to help ease the crisis as more children reach school age.
Earlier this year, Hampshire County Council was handed £9.8m, and Southampton City Council £3.9m to spend adding classroom places.
Cllr Perry believes £200m is needed to create the equivalent of around 20 new primaries and two secondaries over the next decade to cope with demand from rising birth rates and people moving into the area.
Clive Webster, Director of Children’s Services and Learning, said: “For parents, few things are as important as securing a place for your child at a school of your choice.
“We work very hard with parents and schools to make this happen and, whilst guarantees are not possible, I am pleased that more parents than at any time previously receive a place of their choice.
“Given the unprecedented demand for places at Southampton schools, we are adding more primary places now, and this is not only in response to the growing number of children but also the increasingly high standards being delivered by schools in the city.
“The Cabinet is supporting the provision of extra places in order to satisfy demand for places in the cities increasingly excellent schools.”