Skip to main content

Schools: Admissions

Volume 699: debated on Tuesday 11 March 2008

My honourable friend the Minister of State for Schools and 14-19 Learners (Jim Knight) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Information as to Provision of Education (England) Regulations 2008, which were laid before Parliament on 15 January, committed the Government for the first time to publishing data, local authority by local authority, on how many families received an offer of a place at one of their preferred schools. This Statement fulfils that commitment. On Monday 3 March, which was national offer day, nearly 570,000 families found out where their children will start secondary school this September.

Today we are publishing data, showing that across the country 81.6 per cent of families received an offer at their first preference school, 8.9 per cent were offered a place at their second preference school and 93.9 per cent were offered a place at one of their three preferred schools. These figures are based on returns from 138 out of 149 local authorities. In addition, we are publishing unverified data from a further 11 local authorities and, once verified, we will publish further updates to Parliament.

The new school admissions code prohibits the oversubscription criterion known as “first preference first”, where schools gave higher priority to those who put them down as their first preference. For many parents this effectively meant that only their first preference mattered, and if they did not gain a place at their first preference school they risked wasting their other preferences.

Now this practice is no longer part of the admissions process, and parents are no longer deterred from expressing their true preferences we might have expected the proportion of first preferences offered to reduce. However, comparing data collected this year with the results of a survey conducted last year, the proportion of families gaining a place at their first preference school has remained broadly the same and, furthermore, there has been an improvement in the numbers of families obtaining an offer at one of their preferred schools.

There is considerable variation nationally. In the majority of local authority areas, more than 80 per cent of parents have been offered a place in their first preference school. By way of contrast 64 per cent of parents in Greater London have been offered a place at their first preference school.

Where parents do not receive an offer of a place at their first preference school, this does not necessarily mean that they are dissatisfied with their second or third preference. Recent research by Sheffield Hallam University revealed that where a child secured a place at their first preference school, 95 per cent of parents were satisfied and where they did not, 82 per cent were satisfied.

We are concerned about the small percentage of parents without an offer corresponding to any preference. We expect local authorities to analyse the reasons for this and to work with families, schools and, where appropriate, their neighbouring authorities to ensure that all parents are able to express meaningful preferences.

We cannot guarantee that every parent will be offered a place in their first preference school. Nevertheless, because of the huge strides we have taken in improving secondary schools, many more families find themselves in the position of being able to choose from a number of good schools for their children. Our first priority is to ensure that all schools are good schools.

Making a reality of choice for all families means creating more good schools and refusing to accept low standards. Today, there are far more good schools than in 1997 and standards have gone up across the board. There are now 891 secondary schools where 70 per cent or more children gain five A*-C GCSEs, compared to 83 in 1997. We are enabling the best schools to export their formula for success and support their local communities by partnering other schools in their area, sponsoring academies, or forming trusts. Our aim is to ensure that there are good school places across the country and in the right places for parents to choose from.

Ten years ago, a child had a 50:50 chance of going to a low-performing secondary school, which was unacceptable. Since then, the number of schools with under 25 per cent of pupils with five good GCSEs has dropped from 616 to 17. Furthermore, we have announced the national challenge to lift all 638 schools not achieving 30 per cent five A*-Cs at GCSE including English and maths above that threshold by 2012. Options for schools include becoming an academy, joining a trust, federating with a high performing school or receiving intensive support from experienced head teachers.

Parents have the right of appeal against any application that has been turned down; and, over the summer, local authorities and schools will be re-allocating places that become available where others have moved address or chosen a different education for their children. We are also working to ensure that the admission process is fair and transparent for all parents and children.