100,000 'will miss out on first-choice school'

Increased competition for secondary school places caused by decade of closures

Education Editor,Richard Garner
Saturday 27 February 2010 01:00
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Almost 100,000 children face heartache next week when they discover that they have not been given a place at their preferred choice of secondary school.

Monday is "national offer day", when local councils send out letters to an estimated 540,000 families across the country and inform them whether or not they have been successful.

Early indications suggest that the number of disappointed parents will be higher than last year, when 91,896 children lost out on their first-choice school in the scramble for places.

The increased competition is likely to be caused by more parents opting for state secondary schools this year as a result of their budgets being squeezed by the recession.

Another factor is the rising number of school closures, which has placed more pressure on already oversubscribed schools. Figures show that 286 secondary schools closed during the past decade, 30 per cent of them in the last two years.

"There are going to be an awful lot of distraught and distressed parents – even more so than last year," said Margaret Morrissey, of the parents' pressure group Parents Outloud. She blamed councils for being "too hasty" to close schools when the birth rate was dwindling a few years ago.

Parents in London are least likely to secure a place for their children at their first-choice school. Last year, one in three in the capital were disappointed. A breakdown showed that 83 per cent of children gained access to their first choice overall – an improvement of 1 per cent on the previous year.

However, both Mrs Morrissey and the Advisory Centre for Education (ACE), a national charity which gives independent advice to parents, urged disappointed parents to lodge immediate appeals.

Simon Hepburn, chief executive of the ACE, said: "Admission authorities can sometimes change their minds. In 2007-08, over 53,000 secondary school appeals were lodged and over a quarter of those were successful, so it's important families do not give up hope."

Mrs Morrissey urged parents to pursue their appeals "all the way" to the chief schools adjudicator. However, almost all of the children will receive an offer of some kind, as parents are able to put three schools down on their application.

Mr Hepburn added: "We do recommend parents take a good hard look at the school they have been offered and visit it. There are many reasons for parents to believe a certain school is not right for their child, but if they are rejecting it on the grounds of its reputation, sometimes this does not reflect the reality."

The Government said the vast majority of parents will get a place at a school of their choice. "We know that the majority of parents are satisfied with the admissions system, happy with the choice of local schools and the education their children get," it added.

It said it had strengthened the compulsory school admissions code to outlaw practices which led to covert selection and discrimination against low-income families, such as interviewing parents or asking for voluntary financial contributions. Exactly how many children secure places at their first-choice school will not be known until 11 March, when the official figures are published.

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