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More children gaining places at preferred primary school in many areas – study


A higher proportion of children are gaining places at their preferred primary school in many areas of England, a survey has suggested.

Hundreds of thousands of families across England found out on Tuesday which primary school their child will be joining in September, on what is commonly known as National Offer Day.

Findings from a PA news agency survey of local authorities show a youngster’s chance of winning a place at their preferred school varies significantly depending on where they live.

Early figures indicate more than one in 10 families missed out on their first choice in some parts of the country – rising to a quarter in one London borough.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 50 out of 73 councils in England, which provided comparable data to PA, saw a rise in the proportion of children securing their preferred school compared with 2023.

Meanwhile, 18 councils have seen a decline in the proportion of families securing their top choice and five councils reported no change.

Of 67 councils that gave information, 53 saw a fall in applications this year, while 13 saw a rise and one had no change.

A population bulge that began in the early 2000s in England has been moving from primary schools into secondary schools in recent years.

A report by think tank the Education Policy Institute last week warned that falling pupil numbers could force some schools to close.

Separate figures from the Pan London Admissions Board show that more children in London secured a place at their top choice of primary school this year amid less demand for places.

Across the capital, 89.1% of pupils were given their first preference this year, compared with 88.5% last year.

Kensington and Chelsea had the lowest proportion of children getting their top choice at 75.4%.

Applications for primary school places in the capital fell by 2.2% this year, and councils said the falling birth rate and families leaving London is said to have played a part.

Outside London, in Windsor and Maidenhead in Berkshire, 86.6% of children got their first preference, while in Hertfordshire 89.1% got their top choice.

Among the areas where high proportions obtained their first preference were Shropshire, at 98.2%, and Cornwall, with 97.6%.

Official data shows that last year 92.5% of pupils across England were offered their first choice – up slightly from 92.2% in 2022.

Pepe Di’Iasio, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Many parents will today be excited at getting their chosen school, but some will inevitably be disappointed.

“Last year the number of families receiving their first primary school preference increased to 92.5% against a background of a fall in the overall number of primary-age children, and it is likely that we’ll see a similar or increased acceptance rate this year.

“However, this is unlikely to be evenly spread because of local factors – such as housebuilding – and particularly the pressure on places at schools which tend to be in more affluent areas and have ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ Ofsted ratings.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “It remains the case that our disjointed school system continues to cause issues when it comes to school places.

“Local authorities are tasked with ensuring enough school places, but they don’t have the necessary powers commensurate with that responsibility.

“The result is an incoherent planning process where tight budgets are wasted, and decisions are made in silos, with new schools established in places where they aren’t so urgently needed.

“Until the Government steps in with a national strategy to ensure there are appropriate places for every child, families will face worry, and an unfair postcode lottery.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “More children than ever before are receiving a world-class education, with 90% of schools rated good or outstanding.

“This is an important day for many families as they look ahead to their child’s future, and the vast majority will get their first choice of primary school.

“Our plan to give every child a brighter future is working, with more money than ever before being invested in our schools at over £60 billion, the highest level ever in real terms per pupil.”