Squeeze on secondary school places in England now worse than for primaries

Pressure on school spaces is worst in London, Department for Education figures reveal, with fewer than 60% of first preferences allocated in several boroughs

The pressure on state school places in England has spread from primary schools to secondaries, with official figures showing it is getting harder for pupils to get their top choice of schools.

Figures from local authorities show that applications for secondary school places this year reached their highest since 2009, as the first cohorts of the recent baby boom begin to finish their primary education and move up.

The increase saw the proportion of applicants being offered their first preference dropping from 85% to 84% in the space of a year, to the lowest levels since 2010.

About 20,000 pupils, nearly 4% of applicants, failed to receive an offer from any of their named choices for the new school year starting in September.

While much attention has been on creating additional primary school places, council leaders have warned that local authorities struggle to create new secondary school places because of government policy restricting new schools to being academies or free schools.

David Simmonds, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said: “Councils face a challenge creating places on time and in the right places when their hands are tied by red tape and they are short of money to do so.”

Families in London were the worst hit by oversubscription, as fewer than seven out of every 10 applicants gained a place at their first choice of secondary school.

Places were even harder to come by in some inner London authorities such as Hammersmith & Fulham, Westminster and Wandsworth, where fewer than 60% of first preferences were filled.

More than one in five applicants in Hammersmith were offered places at schools that they had not named.

Birmingham was the local authority outside of London with the most pressure on places. Just 68% of first preferences of Birmingham families were met, while 13% did not receive any of their named preferences – the highest proportion outside the capital, along with Windsor and Maidenhead.

The worsening secondary statistics contrast with primary school applications, which were little changed from the previous year despite a 12,000 increase in the number of applicants.

Nearly 88% of families received their first preference of primary school, a slight rise on 2014 that reflected the efforts to provide more places.

But more than 22,000 families did not get offered one of their named choices, which ranges from three to six depending on local authority, with 96% receiving a preferred offer.

London local authorities fared much better in primary allocations than for secondary places. But there were still big gaps between boroughs: Kensington and Chelsea only offered first preferences to 59% of families, compared with London’s 82% average. Kensington was unable to offer any named places to 16% of children.

Meanwhile, Northumberland, north-east Lincolnshire and Yorkshire’s East Riding local authorities offered first-choice places to more than 95% of applicants.

Nationally, 2,500 children were not initially offered any primary school place by their local authorities. For secondary schools, more than 2,000 pupils received no place on national offer day in March.

A Department for Education official said: “We are determined to give every family the choice of a good local school for their child.

“That is why we are pleased that despite rising pupil numbers, the proportion of parents being allocated one of their top choices remains stable, with more than 95% of parents receiving an offer at one of their preferred schools.”


Richard Adams Education editor

The GuardianTramp

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