Page last updated at 09:46 GMT, Thursday, 12 March 2009

Five out of six get top school

School places
The picture varies across England

There has been a slight increase in the number of families getting their first choice of secondary school in England this year.

Five out of six (83.2%) got their first choice - up 1.1 percentage points.

A total of 94.6% received an offer from one of their top three choices according to government figures - another slight rise of 0.6.

Almost 92,000 did not get their first choice and 3.8% did not get an offer from any of their chosen schools.

Families learned of their child's allocation by letter or online last week.

The picture varies greatly across England. In London as a whole, about two thirds (65.9%) of families got their first choice. In some boroughs the figure was closer to 50%.

However, the government points out that across the capital, more than 93% of pupils were offered a place at one of their chosen schools.

Competition for places was also intense in Birmingham, where 67.9% of 11-year-olds got their first choice.

Regional variations

Looking across the English regions, the North East has the highest proportion - with 93% getting their top choice.

In Bedfordshire, almost all - 97% - of families were offered a place at their first choice school. In East Sussex, 87.7% did so, in Hampshire, 92.5%, in Northumberland, 97.4%.

In Cornwall, 97.1% of families got their first preference. In Leeds, the proportion was 85.3%, in Leicestershire it was 96.3%.

In Buckinghamshire, which has a high number of grammar schools, just over half (53.3%) were allocated a place at their first choice. In Slough, which also has grammars, just 41.7% had an offer from their top choice school.

In Kent, which also has a number of grammar schools, 78.4% received their first choice. There, parents know if their child has passed the 11-plus exam to enter a grammar school before they make their choices.

North East - 93.0%
North West - 87.1%
East of England - 84.7%
London - 65.9%
South East - 82.1%
South West - 88.4%
Yorks and Humber - 88.3%
East Midlands - 89.9%
West Midlands - 81.3%

There were marked regional variations also in the proportion of families not being offered any of the schools they had expressed a preference for.

London boroughs scored worst on this. In Richmond-on-Thames, 12.7% did not get such an offer, in Kensington and Chelsea, the figure was 11.9%, in Barnet, 11.2% and in Bromley 10.9%.

Areas which performed best on this included Stockton-on-Tees (0.2%), the Isle of Wight (0.0%), Cornwall (0.6%) and Harrow (0.0%).

UK picuture

The rest of the UK does not have an equivalent national "offer day" when all children learn where they will be going in the autumn and practice varies on collecting statistics.

In Scotland the most recent figures - on "placing requests" for 2007-08 - are due to be published next Wednesday.

In 2006-07, 28,645 families made requests for specific schools of all stages and, after appeals, 85% were granted.

While such huge variations in school performance persist, it is inevitable that 'good' schools will be oversubscribed and that some pupils will lose out
Annette Brooke, Liberal Democrats

In Wales, the assembly government says it does not collect such information.

Admission authorities currently operate local timetables and the offer dates to parents fall between 29 February and 1 April.

England's Schools Minister, Sarah McCarthy-Fry, said changes to the admissions code - which sets out how schools should admit pupils - had made the system fairer.

"We have outlawed unfair and covert admission practices which disadvantaged low-income families and increased social segregation.

"We have extended the role of the independent Schools Adjudicator allowing him to look into any admission arrangements that parents feel are unfair or overly complicated as well as requiring him to monitor compliance and report annually to the secretary of state."

Secretary of State Ed Balls recently announced he was asking the adjudicator to look into the use of lotteries, or random allocation, as the system is known.

They should be used only as a last resort, he said.


Shadow Schools Secretary Nick Gibb said: "At the moment so many parents are disappointed, including up to a third of those in London, because there are simply too few schools judged to be of good quality. We will change this."

Liberal Democrat children's spokeswoman Annette Brooke said: "The only way to end this annual scramble for good school places is to raise standards in those schools which are underperforming.

"While such huge variations in school performance persist across small areas, it is inevitable that 'good' schools will be oversubscribed and that some pupils will lose out."

Later, a spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said schools were improving.

"There are certainly more good schools than there were a decade ago when half of schools were below the benchmark of 30% of children getting five GCSEs at A*-C including English and maths. That number is now one in seven.

"London has seen results continuing to improve year on year. London schools are ahead of the national average at 5 A*-C at GCSE including English and maths for the fourth year running.

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