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Admissions Process

Volume 473: debated on Monday 17 March 2008

12. What assessment he has made of the effects of the changes in the secondary schools admissions process in 2007. (194074)

The data that my Department published last week showed that, for the first time, 82 per cent. of families received an offer of a place at their first choice of school, and 93 per cent. of families received an offer of a place at one of their first three choices of school; both of those figures are an improvement on last year. The new stronger admissions code that was introduced last year has been widely welcomed. We are determined to ensure that all schools comply with the code.

In constituencies such as mine, there is enormous stress and upset over secondary school admissions at this time of year. In Hammersmith and Fulham last year, 40 per cent. of pupils did not get their first choice, and 10 per cent. got none of their choices. That is despite the best efforts of the Conservative council in Hammersmith and Fulham to extend secondary school choice, so why does the Secretary of State simply say that parents should “engage in the appeals process”, when the real issue is that there are not enough quality secondary school places?

The hon. Gentleman is right in his figures: about 60 per cent. of parents in his area got their first choice, and 90 per cent. got one of their preferences. I agree with him—in the end, the only way to deliver fairness for all parents is to make sure that every school is a good school. If we do not do so, we will always have some schools that are over-subscribed. I know that in his area there are three single-sex faith schools that are particularly over-subscribed. That is why I hope that he will back my national challenge programme, which seeks to reduce to zero the number of schools where less than 30 per cent. of pupils get five good GCSEs including English and maths. In 1997, that was the case in more than half of all schools—more than 1,600. We have got that number down from 1,600 to 638, and our pledge is to get it down to zero. I would like his support in making that happen.

In Slough local education authority, which is a selective education authority, this year only 41 per cent. of parents received a place at their first-choice school. Some 10 or 11 per cent. of parents were offered places at schools that they had not identified, and there are still 40 parents in Slough who have not yet got an offer of a school place. Given those circumstances, will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss what we can do in Slough education authority, which has improving schools but not enough school places for our local children, and to see what can be done to meet the needs of parents in our area?

I am happy to have that meeting with my hon. Friend and the Minister for Schools and Learners. The situation in Slough is quite concerning; the numbers there are substantially out of line with those in comparable authorities in the south-east. The number of pupils getting their highest preference was 38 per cent. in Slough, compared with an average of 79.5 per cent. in the south-east. As I look at the list of numbers in front of me, Slough seems to be at pretty much half the level of every other area in the south-east. Clearly, that is not acceptable. We need to see what is happening and whether the schooling system or the local authority are not getting it right. We are happy to meet my hon. Friend and see what we can do to help.