Published: 05:00, 13 January 2022
| Updated: 15:59, 13 January 2022
Parents who live on a new housing estate are having to travel almost 20 miles a day because newly-built schools in the area cannot offer their child a space.
One Ebbsfleet mum says she has to drive almost an hour to take her daughter to nursery after she was denied a place at Cherry Orchard Primary Academy – despite it being just metres from her home.
Rosie Taylor has been living on the Castle Hill estate, part of the new Ebbsfleet Garden City, for two years but problems with her children's schooling arrangements has made her consider moving.
The 25-year-old said: "My daughter, Ivie, is due to start primary school in September. It was the reason we bought our house – it's the closest you can get to Cherry Orchard Primary Academy.
"We previously lived in Bexley, so when we first moved I applied to the nursery by our new house, obviously assuming she was getting in, but she didn't.
"I couldn't believe it. She was still in a nursery where we used to live because my plan was just to swap her over when we moved.
"But now we still have to drive her to the nursery in Bexley which is a 45-minute round trip each day."
A Cherry Orchard Primary Academy spokesman said when it opened in 2017 the estate was sparsely occupied and pupils came from a wider catchment area.
As a result, with those pupils now in key stage 2 and, the school's admissions policy says any siblings they have will receive a place ahead of those applying purely on distance grounds.
The spokesman said this may have resulted in pupils from a wider catchment area temporarily gaining places at the academy over children that live in the surrounding area.
Rosie, who also has a nine-month-old son, Albert, added: "Apparently their waiting list is so long that she won't ever get in. It's just a nightmare.
"We're thinking of moving because of it. Both myself and my partner have jobs, we can't be driving half-an-hour every day dropping her to school. It's just not going to work."
Samantha Redpath, who also has two children, has been having the same problem.
The 44-year-old has lived in the area since 2016 but hasn't been able to get her five-year-old daughter, Daisy, into any of the nearby schools.
Daisy attended Cherry Orchard's nursery, so Samantha applied for a reception place, as well as a spot at two other schools.
Samantha said: "She didn’t get offered any of those schools and neither of the other nearby academies, including the newly-built Springhead Park Primary.
"She was offered a school in Northfleet, but it offered no wrap-around care, which was not suitable as myself and my partner are both working parents."
Parents on the Castle Hill estate are travelling almost 20 miles a day to take their children to school
The mum ended up finding a school suitable for her daughter in Longfield, but it is a 45-minute round trip, twice a day to get her there.
Samantha's daughter is still on the waiting list for all of the schools in her area, however, due to the size of the list, her mum doubts she will ever get a place.
She finished: "I look at all these new families being sold houses and look in disbelief to be honest.
"We were sold the dream of buying a house here, with access to services and education, but I never thought I would be spending an hour-and-a-half every day just to take my daughter to school."
Waiting lists at Cherry Orchard Primary Academy are currently the highest in reception, with 36 children currently waiting for a place.
A spokesman said: "Our lowest waiting list is for Year 6, with only two children waiting for a place.
"Unfortunately, last year those who applied to reception on a distance basis only and lived more than 0.356 miles away were not successful in gaining a place at the academy.
"In total, we had 135 applicants for reception places in 2021 and only 60 spaces available."
Craig Young has lived in Castle Hill for six years.
His eldest daughter, Skyla, is nine, and although she managed to get a place at Cherry Orchard, the dad-of-two is worried his youngest child, Alicia, won't be given a spot next year.
As the admin of a residents' Facebook page, the 32-year-old has spoken to many parents in a similar situation.
He said: "There are countless residents who can see the school from their house but aren't being offered a place.
"We have friends that have bought a house, which is still taking nine months to be completed. They're promised a school place, but by the time they move in, it would have been given to someone else.
"It's really sad to see parents and carers struggling to get their kids into the schools."
Springhead Park Primary also says it can't guarantee a place for children moving into the development.
A school spokesman said: “Our admissions arrangements include oversubscription criteria for determining places if the number of applications exceeds the available number of places.
"This oversubscription criteria includes proximity to the school.
"In the event there is a space available and there is no one on the waiting list, we are obliged to offer the space to the first applicant.
"Whilst reception places are currently full, we would encourage parents and carers of children in older year groups up to Year 5 to get in touch as we may have space available in their required year group and we would be happy to advise on how to apply."
Emma Nolan has lived on the Castle Hill estate for four-and-a-half years.
As a mum-of-two, Emma moved to the area with hopes of sending her eldest child to Cherry Orchard Primary Academy, just a few hundred yards from her home, and has echoed the struggles faced by the other parents.
The 40-year-old explained that the location of the school would have been perfect for her daughter due to the safe route available to and from her house.
Emma's daughter could only be offered a place at the next nearest school in Swanscombe and although, as the crow flies, it is probably only another 10 metres away, there is no direct route from their home.
The only way to get there is by walking out of Castle Hill, along a main road and through a nearby secondary school.
Ian Piper, chief executive of the Ebbsfleet Development Corporation, the company that built the houses and schools in the area, says the situation should improve.
He said: "I understand the parents' frustration. The schools themselves and Kent County Council (KCC) work extremely hard to try and get children into the schools they applied for.
"We don't want parents to travel any further than necessary, however, when we build the schools we aim to complete them before people move in as it makes more sense to have spaces waiting rather than no school at all.
"As a parent myself I understand the school allocation system isn't perfect and the sibling priority has left few spaces available to those living near the new academy.
"However, although this isn't a solution for the parents in difficulty now, we believe this problem will correct itself in the future."
A Kent County Council spokesman echoed Mr Piper's comments. “Unfortunately it is impossible to build an entire housing estate and open new schools to accommodate all children at exactly the same time," they said.
"It is therefore common practice for housing developers to build schools first, to ensure places are available as soon as families take up residence in their new homes.
“The new schools around Ebbsfleet, which are all academies with their own admissions criteria, opened before many of the houses were built.
"Schools are required to offer all available places to pupils that request one, which means that some of the pupils they accepted came from further afield.
“Since then, some of those early pupils have siblings who also need school places.
"Across the country, it is normal for the presence of a sibling to be taken into account when allocating places, as to do otherwise would mean great inconvenience to families delivering young children to different locations.
“While KCC will ensure that all children can gain access to a school in their area, no child can be guaranteed a place at a particular school of their preference.
"While some families are understandably frustrated that they cannot access a preferred school, all spaces have been offered to children that had a higher priority.
“However, as the development corporation has said, we would expect the situation to ease as more places are filled in the earlier years by children living in the vicinity, which will in turn reduce the impact of sibling priority for future applications.”