Number of pupils offered preferred secondary school place falls

New analysis on 'national offer day' reveals parents across England are finding it tougher to get their child into their first-choice secondary than last year

CREDIT: This story was first seen in TES

More than half of England’s local authorities have seen a fall in the proportion of 11-year-olds securing a place at their first-choice secondary in the past 12 months, according to new analysis of government data, TES reports.

The situation has also become tougher for parents over the past five years, with nearly two-thirds of local authorities witnessing a drop in the percentage of pupils going to any of their preferred schools.

The figures come as children across England are learning which secondary school they will attend from this autumn, on what has become known as national offer day.

There have been continuing concerns about a squeeze on school places, caused in part by a recent rise in the birthrate that is now starting to impact on secondary schools.

The Press Association analysis of DfE data shows that, last year, 80 out of 151 local councils (53%) saw a drop in the proportion of pupils given their first choice of secondary school, compared with the year before.

More than half (57%) of authorities, 85 in total, have seen a fall in the proportion of 11-year-olds offered their first secondary school preference over the past five years.

And around two-thirds, 98 councils (65%), have seen a drop in pupils receiving any of their choices during this time.

Richard Watts, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said: “As children move on to secondary schools, the majority of which are now academies, councils are working with one hand behind their backs to help as many as possible receive a place at their first-choice school.

“If they are to meet the demand for secondary school places, then existing academy schools should be made to expand where required, or councils should be given back the powers to open new maintained schools.”

Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Parents should be aware that government policy is helping to create a lottery in the supply of school places between different areas of the country. In some areas there is pressure on places, while in others there is spare capacity.

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“One reason for this situation is that new free schools are not always opened in the areas of greatest demographic need, especially at secondary level.”

Mr Trobe added: “Education funding is severely squeezed and therefore must be used as effectively as possible. New free schools should be opened only in areas where there is a demographic need for them. This is particularly important now and over the next few years because the pupil population will increase significantly and many more places will be needed.”

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers’ union, said: “Finding a place for their children at a local school is a stressful experience for many families. The massive increase in pupil numbers over the next few years, particularly at secondary age, will only make it harder.

“Integrated local planning of school places across maintained, academy and free schools is vital to ensure sufficient provision in all areas of the country.

“In an increasingly fragmented school system we lack a coordinated approach to place planning. Instead, decisions are being made in isolation and new schools and new school places are not always being commissioned in the areas they are most needed.”

He added that the “controversial” government plans to expand grammar schools will not help provide school places “as whole schools could choose to become to selective, regardless of local need”.

A DfE spokesman said: “The proportion of parents getting a place at their first choice of school remains stable, and last year almost all parents got an offer at one of their top three preferred schools.

“Nearly 600,000 additional pupil places were created between May 2010 and May 2015, and the government is now pushing ahead with the creation of a further 600,000 new school places as part of its wider £23 billion investment in the school estate up to 2021.”

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