Parents in Butetown say they are facing an exhausting battle to get their children into the secondary school their families have always attended.
The south Cardiff community is roughly the same distance to three different English-language secondary schools in the city, Fitzalan High in Leckwith, Willows High in Tremorfa and Cathays High.
Yet parents say that they are unable to get their children into the school their families have always attended – Fitzalan in Leckwith.
All are ranked as good schools, Cathays is green in the colour coding system Wales uses see how well schools are doing, Willows is yellow and Fitzalan is green.
Many of the children in Butetown are at primary schools that traditionally feed into Fitzalan – and many of have siblings who were able to get in before catchment area changes and more housing developments made it harder.
Hundreds of homes built on the former Ely Mill site in Canton and in Grangetown and Butetown have meant competition for Fitzalan places has become much more intense.
In one year, just 15 of 56 pupils at Mount Stuart Primary in Butetown got a place at Fitzalan. This year, Fitzalan was the second most oversubscribed secondary in the city.
It has left some siblings ending up going to different schools and parents distrusting the admission system.
Figures from March show that Fitzalan High School had 300 places and refused 154 pupils. The last allocated place was to someone living 1.583 miles away (within catchment area).
Kodor Miah said despite living in Butetown and Fitzalan being his closest secondary school, his soon to be 11-year-old son Arman and pupil of Llandough Primary wasn’t given a place.
Kodor said: “My son is supposed to go to high school this year and I haven’t got a place for him at the moment.
“I applied for Fitzalan for him but they rejected it saying it’s too far away. My whole family went to Fitzalan and we’ve never had a problem, but now it’s really hard.
“Not just for myself but there’s a lot of other parents in my situation. It’s just a shame because our children will miss out on good education and that’s what we want. It’s just frustrating.”
Kodor added that he isn’t sure how they’ll manage if he has to take his son to one school further away and his other child to a primary school in another part of the city.
Butetown councillor Saeed Ebrahim said the situation has left many parents to have “distrust in the system”.
He said: “The docks postcode means children are being offered schools not adequate for their learning. This is driving more parents to home school their offspring and it’s pushing them into poverty due to parents having to leaving work to stay home to teach their children.”
Fellow Butetown parent Suzette Aske faced the problem herself two years ago with now 13-year-old daughter Seren, and said other parents continue to struggle.
She said: “I wanted to send my daughter to Fitzalan but I wasn’t able to.
“There were 46 children [in that year] who never had a school to go to. Some had siblings in Fitzalan and they weren’t able to go there.”
Suzette’s daughter eventually secured a place at St Cyres after leaving Mount Stuart Primary School but was left disappointed.
She said: “I was frustrated. It was the school I went to and it’s a really good school, which I think a lot of the Butetown parents made it good because they sent their children to tutors.
“Then to find out your child can’t go to the school of your choice, even when they have siblings there, I think is disgraceful.
“They are not going to be able to go there [with the new developments] because they aren’t making a bigger school so you know.
“I went to Mount Stuart Primary School and Fitzalan was always the feeder school. It doesn’t make much sense.”
She added the problem is continuing, with friends and family facing the same issue.
Suzette said her cousin has one daughter in Fitzalan, but her sibling has been refused, and a friend has a son in Fitzalan but had to send her daughter to Cantonian.
“It seems like they are just giving the rubbish schools to Butetown children. It’s a common feeling here. It was always Butetown and Canton children that went to Fitzalan.
“But now it’s moved to Llandaff too and it feels like they’ve cut off Butetown.”
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Cllr Ebrahim added that the problem has been ongoing for around a decade and is only worsening.
He said: “Our children are bright A* students however the current system is failing them. There is no consistency in the area for education which causes unrest and we can’t afford to have any child failing due to lack of opportunity or school places.
“More and more parents are opting out of the state school system due to the refusal of local school places. The local opinion is poor and the whole community are feeling the impact.
“This post code lottery needs to be addressed. Parents here are trying their best but the barriers they face are too much of a struggle.
“Language difficulties, overcrowding and multiple sibling families are the worst hit and the choices on the table are ludicrous. For example Welsh medium school offers are suggested despite children having had an English medium primary schools education up to age 11.
“School places have been a Butetown problem for almost a decade now. The situation has gotten worse each year.
“For example the number of amount Stuart Primary School year six children who didn’t have a destination for September 2020 reached into double figures.
“This is completely unjust and not only are they home due to lockdown, but most of these children are upset they have no school for autumn this year.
“The appeal system that follows the refusals is rigorous and there are many barriers, struggles and a lack of understanding for parents here for whom English is a second language as well as the inability to understand how to best fight for the system. Parents in more affluent areas turn up prepared with solicitors and representatives to fight their corner yet ours have to gamble their children’s future and hope and pray they win.”
A Cardiff Council spokesperson said: “Applying for a school place can be a particularly stressful time and many of us can empathise with parents going through this process.
“Living in a catchment area doesn’t guarantee pupils a place at their local school, but many of the secondary schools in Cardiff do have enough spaces to cater for in-catchment applications.
“There is a place for every school age child in the city, and our 21st Century Schools programme has seen the Council deliver significant numbers of extra school places in Cardiff, through building brand new schools and expanding existing provision.
“This will continue, and will help us to ensure we can match the supply to demand for school places across the city. Catchment areas will also continue to be reviewed as new schools open and existing schools expand.”