Allocating first choice school places are ‘challenging’ but parents should not lower hopes – education chief

Stock image. Picture: Barry Batchelor/PA Wire.

Stock image. Picture: Barry Batchelor/PA Wire. - Credit: PA

Parents should not lower their hopes of getting children into first choice secondary schools, despite hundreds more missing out this year, Suffolk’s education chief has said.

Just over 500 children (7% of applicants) were not allocated their first choice of school for this autumn, up from 160 (3.1%) four years ago, Suffolk County Council figures showed yesterday.

But it is better than the latest England average (15.8% last year) and comes after the number of applications rose by almost 2,000 in the last four years. It shot up from 5,154 to 7,134 between 2012/13 and 2016/17 (a 38% increase).

Primary schools have been struggling to keep up with demand in recent years due to a rising population and this is now moving through in to secondary schools across England.

Last night, Gordon Jones, cabinet member for children’s services, education and skills at Suffolk County Council, said mounting pressures over school places are “challenging” and said the council recognises the need to build more schools and houses.

But asked if parents should lower their expectations of securing their first-choice school, he said: “No, I don’t think they should. We are working hard with schools to make a wider choice available of the first choices by making more schools good and outstanding, so more schools become the choice of schools for parents.

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“But it is a challenge for every local authority, and in this day and age parents can vote with their feet. The old catchments are not quite as rigid as they used to be and parents, and therefore their children, are more mobile, but we are working very closely with schools to raise education standards and we are on an upward trend. We are climbing up the national league table.

“So the more good and outstanding schools that you have, the more choice you give to parents and the wider the spread of their first and second choices of schools becomes.”

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The latest Ofsted figures show that 79% of schools in Suffolk are rated ‘outstanding’ or ‘good’.

Meanwhile, the number of parents who did not receive their first, second or third choices has risen from 30 out of 5,154 in 2012/13 (0.58%) to 157 out of 7,134 this September (2.2%).

Mr Jones added: “We understand that some families may be disappointed or anxious about the offer we have made.

“When a parent’s preference is refused, we will put their child’s name on the waiting list for that school automatically and tell them how they can make an appeal, should they wish to do so.”

Graham White, secretary of the Suffolk branch of the NUT, suggested too many parents are “chasing outstanding schools although they may be inappropriate for their child’s needs”.

He said: “Clearly Suffolk is doing better than many other authorities in terms of first choice and second choice. But parents need to change their perception of what constitutes a good school and focus on what is the best school for their child.”

Any parents or carers with children born between September 1, 2004 and August 31, 2005 and who have not yet applied for a school place should call Suffolk County Council immediately on 0345 600 0981.

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