By Anna Whittaker, Local Democracy Reporter
There is no guarantee every Rushcliffe primary school pupil will get a place at their chosen secondary despite a major expansion of local schools, Nottinghamshire County Council says.
There is major demand for secondary school places in West Bridgford and Rushcliffe East.
Nottinghamshire County Council discussed the issue at a Children and Families Select Committee on March 20.
At the Rushcliffe Spencer Academy in West Bridgford, there are plans for another 450 places by September 2026.
And the council has requested “urgently” that the Government approve an extra 150 places at Toot Hill Academy in Bingham, Rushcliffe East – but this may not be completed until 2027.
The council is also considering the further expansion of South Nottinghamshire Academy, in Radcliffe-on-Trent.
But the expansions will still not guarantee that every child gets their preferred place.
James McGeachie, the representative of the Roman Catholic Church on the committee, asked: “Will the expansion guarantee a place for every child living in the Rushcliffe catchment area, regardless of which primary school they went to?”
Cllr Tracey Taylor (Con), cabinet member for children and families, replied: “I think at face value, the answer is no.
“We can’t guarantee what the resident population will be and what the demand will be.
“Also I cannot direct an academy to change its admission criteria.
“If a school’s first criterion is that you are in the catchment and at a feeder school, I cannot give that guarantee.
“I do not have the powers to direct an academy in setting its eligibility criteria.”
The meeting papers stated that “Nottinghamshire faces significant challenges in the future” due to a growing population including new residents from Hong Kong and Ukraine, and nationally a growing cohort of children with specialised and complex needs.
It comes after 12 Rushcliffe children were offered places at schools a “significant distance” – around 10 to 12 miles – from their homes.
Colin Pettigrew, Corporate Director for Children’s Services at the council, said 91 per cent of children in West Bridgford got their first preference and 97 per cent got one of the first two choices.
But Mr Pettigrew said he recognised that this was “no comfort” to those who did not get one of their preferences.
Parents and carers are asked to fill out all four preferences on their application form.
But Mr Pettigrew said that some of the 12 families did not choose a third and fourth preference. He said if they had done this, “in all likelihood, they would have been offered that place”.
He added: “Not exercising that preference has left the vulnerability to schools filling up.”
Data shows that 518 people – 34 per cent – used all four preferences and 26 per cent of people only put one choice down.
Council papers explained how plans are in place to combat the huge demand for Rushcliffe schools.
But Labour Cllr Michelle Welsh suggested that the problem was known to the council in 2018.
Cllr Welsh said: “We’ve known at this council that there is a problem at Rushcliffe schools for years.
“Now we look at this report which says things aren’t going to be ready until 2026 or 2027.
“There are some areas where housing developments seem to be more attractive if they are in the catchment areas for certain schools.”
Cllr Taylor agreed and said: “The Rushcliffe capacity issues have been known and identified for years.
“As you will appreciate there are different parts to this debate, the one about planning for capacity and the one about actually building.”
Cllr Jonathan Wheeler (Con) said: “I want to thank the council on behalf of residents of West Bridgford residents for the work they’ve done to ensure that the Rushcliffe school can be expanded.
“It’s a lot of money, over £30m has gone into it to address the problem in Rushcliffe.
“There’s been a lot of noise in the media about some children not getting school places.
“The vast majority is because they’ve not put down their four choices on their application.”
Cllr Taylor said the council cannot “compel” parents to put down four choices on the application forms.
Other areas which have experienced “pressure” for places in secondary schools are Carlton, Worksop, Broxtowe South and East Leake.