Page last updated at 13:56 GMT, Monday, 1 March 2010

Pupils in England told their secondary school places

Parent Gavin Smith on the stress of waiting

More than half a million pupils in England are finding out which secondary schools they will attend next autumn.

Local councils are sending letters, e-mails and text messages to parents anxious to hear what places they have been offered.

Last year, 83% of families were offered a place at one of their top three schools, 96% at one of their choices.

A smaller percentage of parents will get their first choice in larger cities such as London and Birmingham.

Birmingham said of the 13,986 pupils who applied this year to transfer to secondary school, some 9,300, or 66.5%, had been offered their first choice, down 1.4% on last year.

In 1997, a parent had a one in two chance of going to an underperforming school
Diana Johnson
Schools minister

A further 12.3% were offered their second choice and 6.6% their third.

In Leeds, 6,583 pupils, or 84% of the 7,837 applying, received their first preference this year, compared to 6,613 pupils or 82% last year. A further 9%, or 721 pupils, received their second preference - the same percentage as last year.

In London, offer letters were being sent out on Monday.

In Brighton and Hove 2,266 pupils applied and 82% got their first choice.

This is the fourth year of online applications in the capital and there has been a big increase this year in their use.

Nearly 34,000 families registered online this year, each of whom will be able to look at the offer they have been given from 7am on Tuesday.

And those who register a mobile phone number can receive their offer by text message.

However, the official breakdown of how many parents get their first choice of school or otherwise will not be released until 11 March.

'Driven up standards'

Schools minister Diana Johnson said parents now had more choice because there were better schools and more places in them.

She said: "In 1997, a parent had a one in two chance of going to an under-performing school - which was totally unacceptable.

"We are now pushing all secondary schools to improve, not let them wither like in the past; we have driven up standards in failing and under-performing schools and expanded the best.

"I want parents to choose schools, not schools to choose parents.

"And the mandatory Admissions Code means that parents should now have a fair chance of getting their child into those schools, regardless of background."

She told the BBC that those families that did not get their children into their preferred school still had the "safety valve" of the appeals process.

Parent Gavin Smith is waiting to see if his son Flynn has been given a place at a school for which he had to sit a test.

He said: "I think it's tough on parents, I think it's tough on the child. It puts unnecessary pressure on a 10-year-old because you have to start gearing them up for these tests.

"It's a question of maintaining the faith in my son at the moment."

Not 'short-changed'

The Conservatives say their plans to allow parents to set up their own schools more easily would ease the situation. They are also calling for a simplified admissions code.

In Scotland, councils allocate children to a local school and last year this process was almost complete by the end of April.

It is time we end this lottery of school choices by trying to ensure that each and every school is fit to deliver an education!
ian cheese

Parents can request a particular school in advance, by mid-March, and the council has a duty to grant such a request wherever possible.

If a school is over-subscribed, places normally go first to children living in the catchment area of a school.

Parents in Northern Ireland will receive an offer of a school place on 28 May.

This is the first year when there is no official 11-plus entrance test, although some schools are implementing their own tests.

In Wales parents give their preferred schools in order of preference. These preferences must be submitted by a deadline chosen by the local authority.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the teachers' union NASUWT, said it opposed the idea parents were somehow being "short-changed" if they did not get their first preference of school.

She said: "The standards of education in all secondary schools across the country have never been higher and are continually improving.

"It is wrong to imply that because a school was not a parent's first preference, that its standards are poor."

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