Up to 25% of children could miss out on preferred secondary school

Thousands of families across England are finding out which secondary school their children will attend – but early indications suggest in some areas many are missing out on their top choice.

A survey by the Press Association suggests a youngster’s chances of winning a place at their first preference can vary significantly depending on where they live.

In some areas virtually all are getting their top preference, while in others up to a quarter are missing out.

More than half a million 11-year-olds are finding out which secondary school they will be attending from this autumn on what is commonly known as National Offer Day.

Secondaries have experienced an increase in numbers prompted by a spike in the birth rate in the early 2000s that is now making its way through the school system.

The Press Association’s survey, sent to councils across the country excluding London, suggests many authorities are beginning to feel a squeeze, with figures from 22 of the 34 councils that responded by early afternoon showing an increase in applications.

Just three had a drop, while there were no comparisons available for the others.

The early data also shows that of these councils, 12 have had a fall in the proportion of children getting their first preference and in five the percentage has risen.

There was no comparable data for the others.

Some authorities gave data for pupils living in the area, and others total figures for all applications to their schools.

In Bristol, 71.6% got their first preference, meaning around 28%, nearly three in 10, were given another option.

This was very similar to last year when 71% of families got their first preference.

In Newcastle, 75.3% of people got a place at their first choice school.

At the other end of the spectrum, the survey indicates that in Somerset around 94.2% of pupils got their first choice, along with 94.1% in East Riding.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “Transferring to secondary school can be an anxious time for pupils and parents.

“The last thing any family needs is a worry about whether there will be enough places in a good local school to go round.

“Unfortunately Government policy since 2010 makes that more unlikely.

“Responsibility for planning school places and overseeing admissions should be returned to the democratic oversight of local authorities so they can plan and provide enough school places where they are needed.

“They also need the power to direct all schools – including academies and free schools – to expand where necessary.

“In addition, the Government must prioritise capital investment in the school system so that where new schools are needed, there is funding available to build them.”

Nick Gibb comments
Schools Minister Nick Gibb wants to create more choice for parents (John Stillwell/PA)

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said: “Today is a significant milestone for thousands of parents and children finding out which secondary school they will be attending from September.

“This Government is determined to create more choice for parents when it comes to their children’s education and we have created 825,000 school places since 2010, and are on track to see that number rise to a million by 2020.

“Standards have also risen, with 86% of schools now good or outstanding, compared to 68% in 2010, and last year more than nine out of 10 pupils got a place at one of their top three choices, setting them on the path for a successful future.”

Based on analysis of birth rates and the number of children leaving primary school, the Good Schools Guide estimates 606,000 applied for places this year – an increase of 23,000 on 2018.

According to the Association of School and College Leaders, the number of pupils in secondary schools is rising and is expected to increase by 428,000 over the next seven years.

Last year, the proportion of children missing out on a place at their top choice of secondary school rose for the fifth year in a row, according to Government figures,

Only 82.1% of 11-year-olds in England received an offer from their desired school – meaning 17.9% missed out.

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