Education & Family

Primary places - wide local variations emerging

Classroom Image copyright PA
Image caption Higher rated schools tend to be located in wealthier areas

Wide local variations are emerging in the proportion of families allocated their first choice of primary school for their children.

Less than 69% of families in the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea were offered their first choice, compared with 83% for London overall.

There was better news for parents in Redcar and Cleveland, where almost 98% got their first choice.

A national average for England will not be available for a couple of weeks.

Parents of three and four-year-olds have been finding out which schools their children will attend next year.


Some early figures are beginning to emerge, with the pan-London Admissions Scheme saying 103,329 pupils applied for primary school places in the capital this year - just 58 fewer than last year - "demonstrating that pressure on places remains strong".

The admissions body says more than 94% of children in London were offered places at one of their top three schools, and almost 97% at one of their top six schools.

This leaves 3% on waiting lists without a school place or allocated places at schools they had not applied for.

London Councils, which runs the admissions scheme, is urging the government to allocate sufficient funding to local authorities to fully meet the cost of providing new school places in the capital.

Outside London, the heaviest pressure to emerge so far is on school places in Reading, where just under 79% of children were offered their first choice of school.

Separately, analysis by the Teach First group has suggested the poorest families lose out in the scramble for places at the most popular primary schools.

The least wealthy families have less than half the chance of the wealthiest of sending a child to a top-rated school, according to analysis from the teacher training group.

Poorer families' children are four times more likely to be at weaker schools, according to the study.

However, the government says many more pupils are now in good or outstanding schools.

Teach First analysed data on Ofsted rankings for all schools in England and mapped it against the areas with the poorest children living in them, using an official measure of deprivation called Income Domain Affecting Children Index (IDACI)

The analysis reveals one area, Blackpool, does not have a single outstanding school, while the Isle of Wight and Thurrock have only one each.

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Media captionRobert Pigott reports on the findings about poorer households and primary school places

Teach First suggests recruiting more highly qualified teachers and school leaders in poorer areas, where schools face more challenges because of greater levels of deprivation among pupils.

Its report comes as councils say they will need 336,000 more school places by 2024.

And, as the crunch in primary school provision intensifies, council leaders in some areas say the scramble for places at good schools is even more acute.

'The right place'

In Milton Keynes, where there are twice as many pupils going into reception as will be leaving sixth form, council leader Peter Marland says his officials are working hard to keep pace with demand.

It is one of the biggest areas for house building in England, so schools are being built to cater for the occupants of new housing.

But, he says, these schools are fast being filled up by children already living in the city, who cannot get a place nearer their homes.

Cllr Marland says not only are more children travelling further to take up school places, but those from less affluent backgrounds are at a disadvantage in an increasingly complex admissions system.

He says: "Unless schools, or someone, steps into coaching the poorest families on admissions, then it's those from affluent backgrounds that will get the good places."

The research comes as local authorities, who oversee school admissions, are informing parents where their children have been offered places.

Figures on how many parents got their chosen schools is not published nationally for several weeks, but some councils do publish interim figures earlier.

The Local Government Association says they have been striving to meet their duty to find a school place for all children in their area.

They had created an extra 300,000 primary places since 2010, but this had mostly been achieved within the 85% of primary schools that are council-maintained.

Image caption The places shortage has partly been fuelled by a rise in the birth rate.

Places had been created converting non-classroom areas, increasing class sizes and diverting money away from vital school repair programmes to create more space.

Chairman of the LGA's Children and Young People Board, Cllr Roy Perry, said: "It isn't just about a place for a child, but the right place."He also expressed concerns about how the needs of vulnerable children will be met under an education system where all schools are academies and operate outside the local authority network.


Parents are notified by their local authority of an offer of a school place, usually by email or letter.

They must accept or refuse the place within a given timeframe.

Those wishing to appeal may do so on one of three grounds:

  • admission arrangements are not legal,
  • they have not been applied properly
  • or the decision to refuse a school place was not reasonable.

An appeal may be prepared with the help of a solicitor or legal advisor.

It will be heard by a panel of three people, within 40 days of the appeal deadline.

The panel decides if the school's admission criteria are legal and were properly followed and will weigh up the arguments for an against allowing the appeal.

The decision can only be overturned in court.

A Department for Education spokesman said last year 95.9% of parents in England received an offer at one of their three preferred primaries last year and said its reforms would "ensure we continue to spread excellence everywhere by putting control in the hands of the teachers and school leaders who know their pupils best".

"As well as this, we are backing schemes like Teach First and the National Teaching Service to get great teachers where they are most needed," he added.

Leader of the National Union of Teachers, Christine Blower, said: "Securing a school place for your child should be a straightforward and anxiety-free process.

"Due to the complete negligence of government, however, it is not and many parents will be disappointed today."

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