Harriet Harman

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

Southwark News Column - 23.05.2013

Often I meet people who love Southwark, who’ve lived very happily here, but who feel they have to move out to get a better school for their children. And for parents living in Southwark, schools are the number one issue – above even other issues like crime and the cost of living.

Where all the schools in an area are good, parents just put the local school as their first choice.  And when their child is accepted at that school then they are happy. But where parents are not satisfied with their local school, and make a different school their first choice, and then their child doesn’t get a place – then they are not happy at all.

And that is what is happening for too many parents in Southwark

This year only 58.7% of parents in Southwark got their first preference secondary school compared to the national average which is 86.7%. That is the fifth lowest of all the local authorities in England.  If we just look at London, out of 14 inner London boroughs, Southwark comes in at 11th place.

Of the eight schools that serve the children of Camberwell and Peckham, three were significantly oversubscribed - Kingsdale, the Charter School and Sacred Heart - with two children for every place, and four were significantly under subscribed – Harris Girls, St Michael & All Angels, St Thomas the Apostle, Harris Peckham - with 1.5 places for every child applying.

In comparison, 96% of parents in York get a place for their child in their first choice of school.  Only 1% has to go to a school which wasn’t their first choice.  But in Southwark just over 40% of parents don’t get their first choice of school.

The schools in Southwark are improving. Their results went up massively during the period of investment under the Labour government. And with the closure of failing schools and their reopening – such as Charter school – there are now areas where local parents choose the local school rather than having to send them on a bus or train to the other end of Southwark or even out of the borough.

But there is still a long way to go and I keep this area under the closest possible scrutiny across my constituency and school by school, year by year.

The important thing is for the schools to understand the concerns of parents who are not choosing them – and take action to address those concerns.  When carrying out an inspection, Ofsted survey the parents of children in the school but don’t survey the parents who live locally but want to avoid the school. I want Ofsted to change that.

Results are important – but the most important result for schools is that parents are giving their local school their vote of confidence by sending their children there. Until that is happening across the borough the school report card will still read “must do better”.

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