Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons

Southwark News Column - Government must ensure every school is one local parents want to choose

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Having a good local secondary school to choose for your child is rightly one of the most important issues for people living in Southwark. So every year I carry out a report looking at the number of parents in Camberwell and Peckham who are able to get their children into their first-choice secondary school.

The teachers and support staff in our secondary schools work incredibly hard.  Parents, pupils, teachers, Southwark Council and the local community all want our schools to continue to improve. My report this year shows that 3 of the 8 schools serving children in Camberwell and Peckham – Charter, Ark All Saints and Sacred Heart – were oversubscribed. And St Thomas the Apostle increased their first-choice applications from parents living in Southwark by a third in just one year.

5 of the 8 schools serving children in Camberwell and Peckham were undersubscribed for first choice applications from parents in Southwark. The lowest were Harris Academy Peckham (23% of places available), Harris Boys Academy East Dulwich (27%) and Harris Girls Academy East Dulwich (37%).

Only 59.7% of parents in Southwark got their first preference secondary school in 2018, compared to the national average of 82.1%. That is the 8th lowest of all the local authorities in the country and means 1,180 children in Southwark were left without their first-choice school. In comparison 98.1% of parents in Northumberland got their first preference[1].

This is the story across the whole of London – indeed the bottom 10 local authorities in England are all London boroughs. A third of new pupils missed out on their first choice in London this year, compared to the national average of 17.9%. And this is a problem which only seems to be getting worse - 2% more parents in London missed out on their first-choice school this year than in 2017.

But I am concerned that the progress that’s been made is under threat as the Tories push ahead with the first real terms cut in Southwark school budgets for over two decades, despite the strong opposition voiced by local parents, headteachers, Southwark Council and myself and fellow Southwark MPs Helen Hayes and Neil Coyle.   

The Government cannot expect schools to improve without proper resources. It is ludicrous to suggest that Southwark schools can manage with less, and somehow make cuts of £500 per pupil by just reducing electricity and IT bills.  Local headteachers have been clear to me that they will not be able to make the cuts from those efficiency measures alone. They fear they will be forced to cut teachers, support staff for SEN children and after school clubs, and are looking at their budget sheets wondering how they’ll possibly maintain current standards.

While I welcome the Chancellor’s announcement in the Budget of an extra £400m for schools to provide what he called ‘little extras’, this hardly gets close to replacing the money local schools have lost since 2010. Many schools in Southwark don't have enough funding to deliver the essentials let alone provide 'little extras'. What they desperately need is improved central government funding - I am calling on the Government to end the cuts and back Southwark Council up in their action to improve schools in the borough. I have forwarded a copy of my report to the Education Secretary, Damian Hinds MP to ask what steps he is taking to ensure every school is a good school that parents want to choose.

[1] Source: Applications and offers for entry to secondary schools in England for the start of academic year 2018/19, DfE. Data collected from local authorities on Secondary National Offer Day - 1 March 2018.

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