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Around one in six miss out on first choice secondary school in England

Published 14/06/2016

A total of 84.1% of 11-year-olds were offered a place at their preferred secondary school, new figures show
A total of 84.1% of 11-year-olds were offered a place at their preferred secondary school, new figures show

Around one in six children in England missed out on a place at their top choice of secondary school this year, government figures show.

In total, 84.1% of 11-year-olds across the country were given a spot at their first preference, compared with 84.2% in 2015.

The latest Department for Education statistics also show that 88.4% of youngsters seeking primary school places were offered their first choice, up from 87.8% last year.

This means that almost one in eight did not receive their top preference.

A breakdown of the figures reveals there were 548,006 applications for secondary schools this year - a 2.8% increase on 2015 and the highest number since 2008.

The hike comes as a rise in birth rates seen in recent years begins to make its mark on secondary school places.

Overall, 96.5% of children received an offer at one of their preferred schools - families can usually list up to five or six in order of preference - compared to 96.4% last year.

The statistics also show a child's chances of winning a place at their top choice depended heavily on where they live.

As in previous years, London had the lowest proportion of applicants receiving an offer of their first choice school at 68.8% - meaning almost a third missed out.

The South West was the region with the highest proportion of first choice offers at 91.9%, followed by the North East at 91.8%.

Data for primary schools shows there were 641,572 applications in 2016, a 0.8% increase on 2015 (636,279).

Government statisticians noted: "This is a lower rate of increase than between 2014 and 2015 (2.0%) and, with birth figures showing a drop in 2013, the increasing numbers of primary applications may soon start to level out."

In total, 96.9% of children got a place at one of their preferences, up from 96.5% in 2015.

Across London, 83.7% of applications received an offer of a place at their first preference school, while the North East has the highest proportions of first preference offers at 92.7%.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "Delivering good quality school places is a top priority for this Government and today's figures show that the system continues to work.

"The vast majority of pupils were offered a place at their first choice school and more than 95% received offers from one of their top three choices.

"Our reforms and our academy programme are raising standards for all children, with 1.4 million more pupils in good or outstanding schools than in 2010.

"We will continue to invest and work hard to ensure every child has an excellent education that allows them to reach their full potential."

Shadow education secretary Lucy Powell said: "The Tories' free market approach to providing new school places just isn't working. Children are being crammed into ever larger class sizes and many primary and secondary schools are at or over capacity.

"The provision of new places needs proper planning and co-ordination. Yet this Government's fixation with free schools, which can be opened where there is no shortage of school places, has made it harder and harder to ensure there are enough good school places in every local area.

"There are legitimate concerns about the impact of migration on the schools system but let's put it into context: less than 5% of new places needed are for children of EU migrants. This should have been better managed by Tory education ministers without a doubt, but the vast majority of pressure on the school places system is coming from a rising UK birthrate.

"It is time for ministers to give local areas adequate powers to plan for new places and remove the bureaucracy that councils face when it comes to opening and expanding schools."

Roy Perry of the Local Government Association said: "Councils have been working hard to make sure that there are enough school places for everyone in their areas, and to make sure that as many children as possible get a place at the school of their choice.

"It's therefore encouraging to see that, despite increasing numbers of applications, the proportion of children getting their first choice school is still high, and even increasing for primary school pupils.

"However, more than 800,000 extra places are needed by 2024, and while councils have a statutory duty to ensure every child has a school place available to them, they find themselves in the difficult position of not being able to ensure schools, including academies, expand.

"Finding suitable sponsors with the capacity to take on the running of a successful new school is also proving a challenge.

"Councils are therefore calling for powers to either compel academies to expand to provide enough places, or to create new schools if they are unable to secure high quality free school sponsors in their communities."

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