National Offer Day: Record number of children to miss out on first-choice secondary school places, analysis suggests

‘There is a desperate need for long-term planning,’ say headteachers

Chris Baynes
Friday 01 March 2019 09:34
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Most secondary schools are now academies
Most secondary schools are now academies

A record number of children will miss out on their first-choice secondary school this year, education experts have predicted.

Some 115,000 pupils in England will not be offered a place at their preferred option, according to analysis by the Good Schools Guide, which warned some parts of the country “simply do not have enough places to satisfy local demand”.

Headteachers have called on the government to “sort its act out” and said there was a “desperate need for long-term planning” to cope with a growing school-age population.

Families learn on Friday where their children will start school in September.

A shortage of places, particularly in large cities, and high demand for the best-performing means more disappointed parents than ever, analysis of government figures suggests.

Councils in half of London boroughs, as well as parts of Greater Manchester, Bristol and Birmingham, are thought to have received more applications this year than school places available.

Bernadette John, director at the Good Schools Guide said: “Secondary school can be key to unlocking a child’s potential, so no wonder parents are dismayed when the place they get is for an undesirable school.

“It has been known for a long time that secondary schools would need to accommodate increased pupil numbers but little action seems to have been taken.

“In recent years, some local authorities have struggled to find enough places at primary school level and now we have begun to see the impact on secondary schools.”

An estimated 606,000 children have applied to start secondary school in September 2019, a rise of 23,000 from last year. Parents were required to list between three and six schools in order of preference on applications submitted in October 2018.

Last year 104,000 children, or 17.9 per cent, missed out on their first choice, an increase from 2017.

Some 4.1 per cent of pupils were allocated places at schools which were not among their preferences last year, a figure which the Good Schools Guide forecast to rise this year.

“For the next few years, it will get worse,” Ms John said.

The Local Government Association (LGA) has predicted 134,000 children could miss out on a secondary school place entirely in the next five years as pupil numbers surge.

Seventy-one councils in England and Wales will unable to meet demand unless ministers give them the power to open schools or force academies to expand, it warned in August.

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Paul Whiteman, general secretary of NAHT headteachers’ union, said: “Until the government sorts its act out and comes up with a national strategy to guarantee there are enough school places for every child in England, the annual anxious wait for families will always be a problem.

“It’s an issue which isn’t going away. There is a desperate need for long-term planning that spans all sectors.

Local authorities are responsible for providing sufficient school places but the powers and resources necessary to do so have been removed.”

Nick Gibb, minister for schools standards, said: “This government is determined to create more choice for parents when it comes to their children’s education and we have created 825,000 school places since 2010, and are on track to see that number rise to a million by 2020.

“Standards have also risen, with 86 per cent of schools now good or outstanding, compared to 68 per cent in 2010.”

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