Recession puts squeeze on places at top state schools

Parents fear children will not get place in first choice school
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The Independent Online

As many as one in three families in urban areas have failed to get their children into their first choice school.

Figures showed that in the London borough of Wandsworth, fewer than half of those seeking a secondary school place were accepted by their preferred school. They also showed a sharp divide between urban and country areas.

In Birmingham and across London as a whole, only two thirds won places at their first choice school. In Birmingham, the success rate of 66 per cent was 1.4 percentage points down from last year. Officials put the drop down to more parents applying to state schools this year, largely as a result of abandoning the private sector due to the recession. In addition, far more parents applied for places at the city's seven remaining grammar schools than there were places available.

In London, the figure was 65 per cent, an improvement of just one point on last year's figure. However, Graham Carter, chairman of the cross-London admissions group, pointed out that 88 per cent had been offered one of their top three preferences.

Surrey County Council also recorded more applications for places in both primary and secondary schools, again as a result of parents deciding against going private.

Secondary applications rose by 1.4 per cent to 10,327 but the percentage of children getting their first choice school stayed at 79 per cent, the same figure as last year. Around the country, most councils appeared to have improved upon last year's performance, including Derby, Durham, Leeds and Warwickshire. In Durham, 95 per cent of children received their first preference.

The agony faced by parents as they awaited the arrival of letters or text messages informing them whether or not they had been successful was summed up on the parents' website Mumsnet, which soon chalked up 195 messages on the subject.

One read: "I'm terrified that DS [my son] won't get into his first choice and don't know what we'll do if he doesn't."

Oversubscribed schools were bracing themselves yesterday to deal with an avalanche of appeals. Speaking on ITV News, Michael Gove, the shadow Schools Secretary, said: "We have a terrible situation when there are so many parents who will be heartbroken today because they're not getting their children into the school of their dreams." The Tories said they would allow parents to set up Swedish-style independent "free" schools funded by the state.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said yesterday was a return to "Groundhog Day and the annual angst over how many pupils get into their first choice school".

She added: "Parents need to be encouraged to be less concerned about which school their child attends, and rather more concerned about the progress their child makes at that school."

Last year 91,000 families failed to get their children into their first choice school, and the figure is predicted to be higher this year.

Not your first choice? Advice on appeals

*Parents can lodge an appeal if they have been unsuccessful in obtaining a place at their top preference school.

Last year 86,020 appeals were lodged, of which 19,150 were successful – a rate of around 22 per cent. However, parents are advised to accept a place for their child at their second preference school if offered one and to put their names on the waiting list for a place at their top preference school. Sometimes parents do not take up their allocation and a place becomes free. On other occasions, offers are withdrawn if it is discovered they were claimed fraudulently. The Advisory Centre for Education recommends families should visit any school they have been allocated, even if it is not one of their preferred choices.