Great Britain

Good news for the majority of parents over primary school places

THERE are signs that higher proportions of children are gaining places at their first choice of primary school in a number of areas of England, research indicates.

Hundreds of thousands of families across England are finding out which primary school their child will be joining this autumn, on what is commonly known as National Offer Day.

Early indications from a PA news agency survey of local authorities suggest that a youngster’s chances of winning a place at their first preference school varies significantly depending on where they live.

The poll, sent to councils across England, excluding London, suggests that a number of local authorities have seen a rise in the proportion of children getting their first preference.

Early figures, from 51 councils which provided comparable data by midday, show that 41 have seen a rise in the proportion of pupils getting their first preference compared with last year, while ten have seen a fall.

Among the areas where very high proportions of pupils have achieved their first preference are Northumberland, where 98.4 per cent got their first pick, and the East Riding of Yorkshire, with 97.5 per cent.

In comparison, in Southend in Essex, only 85.4 per cent of children got their first preference, a fall on last year, while in Hertfordshire, among all applicants, only 87.3% got their top choice.

Figures supplied to The Northern Echo by North Yorkshire County Council show that 94.91 per cent of primary age children in the county secured their first choice of school.

While in Middlesbrough, 95.08 per cent of parents had their first preference met.

The vast majority of parents in Hartlepool also received their preferred choice of primary school and Amanda Whitehead, the borough council’s assistant director for education, said: “Once again, our figures are very good news for the vast majority of parents/carers – our 98.5 per cent rate for offering first preferences exceeds the percentage of parents receiving their first preference school last year and also the most recent available (2020) English national average of 90.2 per cent.

“The council’s admissions team and primary schools always do their very best to achieve parents’/carers’ first preferences and I would like to congratulate them on their hard work to achieve these excellent outcomes this year.”  

England’s school system has been under pressure in recent years due to a rise in the school-age population.

This has been fuelled by a spike in the birth rate in the early 2000s which has made its way through primary schools and is moving into secondary schools.

Official data shows that, last year, 90.2 per cent of pupils were offered their first choice of primary school – which was down slightly on 90.6 per cent in 2019.

Baroness Judith Blake, chair of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) children and young people’s board, said: “Choosing the right school for your child is one of the most important things a parent will do and this time of year can be extremely stressful.

“Everyone wants their child in a school where they can be happy, safe and reach their full potential.

“Over recent years, councils have created hundreds of thousands of extra primary school places. This is a demonstrable record that they are doing everything they can to rise to the challenge of ensuring no child goes without a place.

“Every child should have a fair chance of getting into their parents’ preferred school and councils and schools work extremely hard to try and ensure that as many pupils as possible are allocated their first preference.”

Last year, the Department for Education (DfE) changed its rules amid the pandemic so that parents unhappy with their school place would not have to make an appeal in person.

The temporary change has been extended until the end of September 2021 due to coronavirus restrictions.

Appeal panel hearings will be able to take place “either in person, by telephone, video conference or through a paper-based appeal”.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the school leaders’ union NAHT, said many families applying for places for this autumn will have been unable to visit the school in person due to Covid-19.

He said: “It is vital that no child going through the primary admissions process this year should be disadvantaged.

"Support must be in place for families to navigate what can be a daunting process.

“For those families not getting their first choice of school, the appeals process will be going ahead, albeit virtually.

"This process must be as robust as ever and be made clear to parents through effective communication and advocacy, where required.”

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