Nearly 7,000 unfilled places at Suffolk schools – but 43 schools remain oversubscribed
PUBLISHED: 06:00 22 March 2018
Education bosses in Suffolk have said a culture of parental preference has left more than 82% of the county’s schools with unfilled places, while the most popular are continually oversubscribed.
Figures released by the Department for Education this week revealed that out of the county’s 251 schools, 208 of those had one or more places available, with almost 7,000 places available across the county.
But despite the vacancies, 43 schools were considered at capacity or oversubscribed, with 392 pupils in excess of capacity at those establishments – an average of nine extra pupils per school.
Education chiefs in the county have warned that parents’ wishes to get their children in traditionally well-performing schools, coupled with disparities in quality meant more were choosing to send their children beyond their local school.
Graham White, Suffolk representative for the National Education Union said many parents were willing to drive their children to school if it was a better school further away than their local.
He added: “The real issue is that you cannot have a situation where you have a rising school population and there are schools oversubscribed – you should have a situation where you go to your nearest local school and that will be a good school.”
Mr White said schools rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted often attracted more applications, were able to better retain teachers and access better funding, which made parents more likely to apply for them.
Nigel Burgoyne, headteacher at Kesgrave High School said the school had been oversubscribed for years, and confirmed that applications outside of the traditional catchment area had remained strong because of the school’s community ethos, confidence from parents, quality of education and broad network of facilities and clubs.
He added: “You could fill the school twice over quite easily, which is great, but frustrating that we cannot [offer everyone a place].”
Education bosses at Suffolk County Council said more than nine in 10 pupils were given their first choice while 97% were given one of the top three choices, and pointed to work in the Raising the Bar scheme to get every school rated ‘good’ or above by Ofsted.
Gordon Jones, cabinet member for children’s services, education and skills at Suffolk County Council, said: “We are in a climate of parental preference which means that popular schools are regularly oversubscribed, with students travelling further to reach them.
“Despite this, we’re pleased that in recent years we have consistently been able to offer the majority of students a place at one of their preferred schools.
“Suffolk’s children and young people deserve the best education system and our Raising the Bar programme supports all children and young people in Suffolk to achieve their full potential.
“The programme has seen some great progress with 87% of Suffolk schools now judged ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, which is an increase of 12% from 2015.
“Our work continues with Suffolk schools to increase this figure year on year ensuring all Suffolk’s children and young people can attend a ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ school.”