Signs that more families missing out on first choice of secondary school

Smaller proportions of children are gaining places at their preferred secondary school in many areas of England, a survey suggests.

Early figures also indicate that in some parts of the country, more than a quarter of families have missed out on their first choice – rising to nearly two in five pupils in some London boroughs.

Hundreds of thousands of families across England are finding out which secondary school they will be joining this September, on what is commonly known as National Offer Day.

Findings from a PA news agency survey of local authorities show that, of the 68 councils that gave comparable data, 39 (57%) have seen a fall in the proportion of pupils getting their first choice compared with last year, while 25 (37%) have seen a rise and four (6%) have seen no change.

In addition, of 54 councils in England that gave information on application numbers, 35 (65%) have seen at least a slight increase in applications this year, while 19 (35%) have seen a drop.

England’s school system has been put under pressure in recent years as a population bulge has been moving into secondary schools.

Three in 10 children in London missed out on a place at their top choice of secondary school, figures from the Pan London Admissions Board show.

Across the capital’s 33 boroughs, 69.78% of families were given their first choice of secondary school this year, compared to 69.95% last year.

Lambeth had the lowest proportion of children getting their top choice at 61.56%, and in Redbridge just 62.79% secured their first preference.

But the number of applications for secondary school places in the capital fell slightly this year, and families leaving London due to different working patterns is said to have played a part in this drop.

Meanwhile outside London, in Liverpool only 67.2% of children got their first preference, while in Birmingham 71.68% got their top choice.

Among the areas where high proportions of pupils have obtained their first preference are Rutland, where 98.3% got their top choice, and Northumberland where 95.45% were offered their first pick.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “This can be an anxious time for families. Choosing the right school and securing a place there is a huge moment in a child’s life and not everyone will get their first choice today.

“There is extra pressure on secondary admissions this year as the pupil population bulge that has been moving through primary schools is currently hitting secondary schools. Many schools are particularly oversubscribed, especially in certain areas of the country.”

He added: “Until the Government creates a national strategy to guarantee there are enough school places for every child in England, the annual anxious wait for families will continue.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “The number of pupils in secondary schools has been rising in recent years and is expected to continue to do so through to 2025.

“It is therefore very likely that there will be more pressure on secondary school places this year and next. This pressure will be most keenly felt by schools that are already oversubscribed.”

Official data shows that last year, 83.3% of pupils were offered their first choice of secondary school – which was up slightly on 81.1% in 2021.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The vast majority of families will be offered a place at one of their preferred schools and most will be offered their top place.

“We have already created over one million school places in the last decade – the largest increase in school capacity for at least two generations.

“We have also announced nearly £530 million to provide both primary and secondary places needed for 2023, and £940 million for places needed for 2024 and 2025.”