Thousands of children miss out on preferred primary school

Pressure on places shows signs of easing in areas of England including London and Birmingham

Thousands of parents in England have been denied a place for their child at their first choice of primary school. Evidence suggests, however, that pressure on reception classes is easing in some areas, including London, where applications were down 2.3% on last year.

After an anxious wait documented by many parents on social media, more than half a million families across England were informed on Monday which school their child will be attending in September.

Early analysis of local authority data suggests that, in many areas, higher proportions of children gained places at their first choice of school this year.

In most areas, about 90% of parents had an offer from their hoped-for school. But thousands were still disappointed, with some failing to secure a place at any of their preferred primaries.

Many disappointed parents will now be considering an appeal; others will be wondering how to negotiate new challenges. One father tweeted: “So our littlest has been given a place at primary school. It would have been a lot easier had it been the same primary school as her sister. Looking forward to working out how to be in two different places at the same time.”

In London, where demand for places remains high, 86.5% of families were offered their first choice of school, up 0.61% on 2017, while 96% were accepted by one of their three favourites. But 2,314 four-year-olds did not get into any of their chosen schools, down 0.14% on last year.

Primary schools have struggled in recent years to accommodate growing numbers of children after a spike in the birth rate, but the population bulge is gradually shifting from primaries to secondaries. Figures published last month showed applications to London secondaries were up 4%.

Some London boroughs claim demand for places is also down because of welfare changes and high property prices, which have forced some families to leave the capital. In other boroughs, however, demand remains high and success rates for securing places at preferred primaries are the lowest in the country.

The most difficult borough to be accepted by your preferred primary school is Kensington and Chelsea, where just 68% of families secured their first choice – the same proportion as last year. In Camden the figure was 76.55%, and in Hammersmith and Fulham it was 76.71%.

Birmingham, where demand for primary places has been high in recent years, also recorded a slight drop in applications. The proportion of parents receiving their first choice rose by 5.5% to 92.9%, but just over 200 children did not receive an offer from any of their preferred schools.

According to a Press Association sample survey of 40 councils in England, 28 (70%) reported a rise in the proportion of families receiving their first choice of school; five (12.5%) said there had been a fall, and seven (17.5%) saw no change. Of the 31 local authorities that provided comparable information on application numbers, the majority (27) reported a fall, while four saw an increase.

In some areas, almost all four-year-olds got into their preferred school. In Wiltshire, 93.4% were offered their first choice, while the figure was 96% in central Bedfordshire, 95.2% in Cornwall and 95% in Lincolnshire. Parents in East Sussex had more difficulty, with 87.6% winning their first preference, while in Leeds it was 88% and in Essex is was 88.1%.

The school standards minister, Nick Gibb, said: “We’re investing £5.8bn to create even more good schools and good school places – building on the 825,000 we’ve created since 2010 – resulting in nine out of 10 pupils securing one of their top three choices of schools.”


Sally Weale Education correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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