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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Anna Davis

Three in 10 London pupils miss out on first choice of secondary school

More than 25,000 children will not go to their first-choice secondary school this year despite a drop in the number of pupils applying for places, new figures reveal.

Almost 30 per cent of pupils will start at a secondary school in September that was not their top preference, according to data from the Pan-London Admissions Board.

Year Six pupils across the country were today finding out which school they have been allocated to start in September, as part of National Secondary Offer Day.

In London, despite a 2.5 per cent drop in the number of applications, the percentage of pupils getting their top choice rose by just 0.79 per cent on last year.

Overall 90,348 London children applied for a place in Year 7 – the first year of secondary school, which is almost 2,300 fewer than applied last year.

90 per cent of those were allocated a place at one of their top three schools, which is one per cent higher than last year.

But figures show around five per cent of pupils were given a school they did not apply to – which is around 4,600 children. Instead, they were offered a place at an alternative school. And 224 children have not yet been given any school place for September.

Those children will be given a place at a school when other applicants withdraw, either because they are moving house or going to private school.

Pupils who missed out on their first-choice school automatically go on the waiting list for the schools that they listed as a higher preference.

A spokeswoman for the Pan London Admissions Board, said: “Although some London local authorities will be under more pressure than others, overall we can say that there are sufficient Year 7 places to meet demand in London schools.”

Today’s figures show vast difference across London. In Hammersmith and Fulham only 62 per cent of children got into their first-choice school, compared to 82 per cent in Barking and Dagenham.

Pupils in Waltham Forest, Tower Hamlets, Havering and Camden were also more likely to get into their top choice school than elsewhere in London.

London Councils said the number of children applying for secondary school places has dropped because of the falling birth rate, the pandemic and Brexit.

They predict a drop in demand for secondary school places of 4.3 per cent over the next four years as families leave the city. Because schools are funded according to the number of pupils they have, schools with extra spaces are at risk of closure and many have already closed or merged.

Jon Abbey, Chair of the Pan-London Admissions Board, said: “The Pan-London Admissions Scheme ensures that school places are distributed by local authorities in an open and fair way, taking into account the number of places available and eligibility criteria at each school. Where parents and pupils have not been offered their first preference, it is because in some schools the demand for places outstrips supply.”

He added: “We can reassure parents that there are sufficient places in London’s secondary schools to meet overall demand. The scheme ensures that parents receive a school place offer at the school which is highest in their list of preferences for which they are eligible under the admissions criteria.”

Ian Edwards, London Council’s executive member for children and young people, said: “It is positive that once again the overwhelming majority of London’s children have an offer from one of their preferred schools. London is the best performing region at GCSE level with 90 per cent of schools rated Good or Outstanding by Ofsted, which means local families can be confident that their child will receive an excellent education.”

Referring to the drop in applications for secondary school places, he added: “Boroughs have worked diligently with schools to ensure there are sufficient places to meet the demand for school places across the capital, particularly in the context of falling school rolls and the impact this is having on some schools.

“London’s population has always ebbed and flowed, so it is likely that the birth rate will pick up in due course. However, it is difficult to predict when and if this will happen, so local authorities will have to work closely with communities, schools and other local services in the meantime to ensure that we don’t lose vital assets, such as schools, now that we may need in the future.

“We remain keen to work with Government to respond to pressures surrounding secondary school places, ensuring that that all London pupils have the best start in life.” 

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