Half of parents in some areas denied first choice of school

Local authorities ‘can’t afford to create new places’ to keep up with birth rate

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The Independent Online

Nearly half of parents in some parts of the country have had their first choice of secondary school rejected, with families in inner cities faring the worst.

Just 55 per cent of applicants succeeded in getting their top preference in Hammersmith and Fulham in west London, followed by a 57.8 per cent acceptance rate in Wandsworth in the capital’s south-west, and 68.5 per cent in Birmingham, according to data released yesterday.

The results from “D-day” – when all parents seeking a secondary school place for their children are told their fate – showed a mixed picture across the country.

While the majority of the 550,000 children needing a place will have secured one at their preferred school, as many as 70,000 are expected to have missed out.

Around 4,000 failed to get their top choice in Birmingham, with 1,800 not receiving a place at any of their first three preferences.

Other councils, particularly in the inner-London area, were expected to declare a similar result. Across the capital, only 67.6 per cent gained access to their top choice school.

550,000 children applied for secondary school places this year; as many as 70,000 are expected to have missed out (Getty)

One of the reasons for the low percentage in London was an increase in the numbers applying for places – up 3.9 per cent this year to 84, 140.

Helen Jenner, who chairs the Pan-London Admissions Board, said: “London’s schools have long been recognised as the best in the country. However, demand for places is growing as we are beginning to see the pressure on primary schools transfer to secondary.

“London boroughs are working with schools to expand the number of places they can offer but the higher cost of land and construction in the capital means this is often difficult.”

Many other areas of the country were boasting that more than 90 per cent of parents had got their preferred school, however. In Cornwall, the figure was 97.9 per cent while in Nottinghamshire it was 94.2 per cent.


But David Simmonds of the Local Government Association warned that the situation was likely to get worse. Not only will secondary schools be affected by the rising birth rate, the provision of places is also hampered by rules which forbid local authorities from opening new schools, insisting that new schools must be free schools or academies.

“Our fear is that we will reach a tipping point when councils or schools cannot afford the massive cost of creating places or find the necessary space for new classes,” said Mr Simmonds.

“The Government needs to commit to fund the creation of school places and hand councils the powers to open new schools before time runs out. 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.”

Chairman of the LGA Children and Young People Board, David Simmonds, has warned that the situation was likely to get worse

Rachel Burrows, editor of the Netmums website, said: “

“The rising birth rate, immigration, and parents who can no longer afford to school their children privately have all contributed to making the competition for school places tougher than ever before.”

A Department for Education spokesman said the Government wants to give every family the choice of a good local school, adding: “Since 2010, the Government has invested more than £5bn to create more than 445,000 new school places – more than double the amount invested in the previous four years – and last year, over 95 per cent of parents got one of their top three choices.”

School places: In numbers

  • 550,000 children applied for secondary school places this year
  • 67.6% of children in London were accepted by their top choice
  • 1,800 pupils in Birmingham did not get a place at any of their top three preferences