Black hole of school places for St Albans children means many face travelling miles from home

A group of parents whose children have been allocated schools miles from where they live

A group of parents whose children have been allocated schools miles from where they live - Credit: Archant

The “black hole” of school places has left an autistic child allocated a primary miles from home as the problem reaches crisis point.

Droves of city centre mothers have come forward after being told their children did not get into any nearby schools like St Peter’s, Alban City or Maple Primary due to a lack of space.

Across the district, 70 children did not get a ranked school, with 39 of these in the city centre.

Alexandra Elmahdi’s autistic son has been allocated Margaret Wix school, a 90-minute walk away: “I am in complete awe that my son’s condition hasn’t remotely been taken into consideration just because it isn’t bad enough that he needs a special education plan.

“An almost two hour journey to school and back every day will do nothing but cause disruption to his day.

“I am already naturally worried about his transition into primary school, and the last thing I need is to have problems before we’ve even arrived.”

Herts county council said if a child has an education, care and health plan they are placed at the school named in the plan, but other special needs are not specifically taken into account because all schools are expected to accommodate children with a wide range of needs.

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As she doesn’t drive, Alexandra’s only options are to take her son on public transport, which he finds uncomfortable, or walk him and his twin sister nearly two hours each way every day from their home on Charrington Place to Margaret Wix.

She said: “As I’ve never done this before, unknowingly to me by rejecting the twins’ place, which I saw no point accepting as they can’t get there, they could be left without a school completely should they not be successful in the other rounds of allocations.”

Another mother whose children have been allocated Margaret Wix school asked how Alexandra’s situation is viable.

Laura Roffey, who lives on Bedford Road with her two children, claims the situation is at a crisis point: “This has been going on since 2007, and it’s shocking we are saying the same thing year on year.

“We are all very disappointed and feel very let down.”

Instead of a place at St Peter’s School (500 metres away), Alban City School (600m), or Maple Primary School (700m), Laura’s child has been given a place at Margaret Wix (two miles away).

She said: “We feel it is reaching crisis point because of the lack of provision. It is ridiculous!

“There has been no long-term solution, and the problem is only going to get worse as there is a new housing development behind us.”

Laura said publicity about the development boasted about the good schools in the area, but failed to mention places at these establishments are hard to come by.

Laura has reached out to county councillors who have been campaigning for a solution to the issue.

St Albans councillor Sandy Walkington said: “There is a chunk of my division where people are in a black hole when it comes to primary school places, and they end up being allocated to schools a long long way away.”

In order to try and solve the problem, Cllr Walkington has asked council officers to look into extending St Peter’s.

This would replace the current single-form entry with two forms, effectively doubling the size of the school.

Cllr Walkington said: “There needs to be a new primary school in St Albans, but this is an easier first step.”

Herts county council has stressed that there were 915 applications for reception places from the city of St Albans.

Of these, 83 per cent of pupils were allocated their first preference, and 95 per cent were allocated one of their four preferences.

In the whole district 85.64 per cent of children allocated their first preference, and 98 per cent were allocated one of their four preferences.