Parents 'too fatalistic' in choosing schools

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The Independent Online

Parents may not be putting their first choice on the school application form because they think their child will fail to get into it, a study suggests today.

Researchers involved in the UK-wide Millennium Cohort Study, led by the Institute of Education, University of London, asked parents if they would have liked to have applied to a different state primary school, but did not.

The findings showed that between 4 per cent and 7 per cent of parents who got their stated first-choice had preferred another school but had not tried to get their child in there.

Original figures showed that 94 per cent of families who applied for a place at a state primary school in England won a place at their chosen school, according to an examination of school choices made by parents of more than 15,000 children taking part in the study. In Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland this proportion was 98 per cent.

But once the figures were adjusted to take into account parents who said they had wanted to apply elsewhere but had not done so, the figures fell to 88 per cent of parents in England, 92 per cent in Wales, 95 per cent in Northern Ireland and 91 per cent in Scotland.

The study says: "One explanation for the fact that the vast majority of pupils attend their first-choice school is that their parents selected a school that they were very likely to get into. For instance, parents may have opted not to put a school that they preferred at the top of their choice list because they felt that their child had a low probability of getting into it due to over-subscription. If parents act fatalistically and do not make ambitious choices, this would explain why most do get their first choice."

The Children's Minister, Dawn Primarolo, said: "There is no reason for any parent to try for their second-best school because they feel they won't get their first choice. Schools cannot judge based on whether they were put first or not and parents can put at least three choices, meaning they don't have to choose between the school they really want and the school they think they have the best chance of getting.

"The overall picture... is very positive. Nearly nine out of 10 parents are getting their first-choice primary school."