Can't take rejection?

Secondary admission appeals have rocketed, reports John Howson.

The surge in secondary school admission appeals in England is charted in new official figures.

The number of appeals almost doubled between 19956 and 19992000 to more than 60,000 - the equivalent of 96.2 appeals per 1,000 admissions.

Some of this rise could be due to parents - increasingly well-informed and with high expectations - competing harder for places at selective schools or other prized secondaries. But other factors could also be at work.

As the number of parents splitting up or changing jobs increases, their children will try to change schools, leading to further appeals. It is also possible that the rising appeals figures are a reflection of our increasingly consumer-led society, parents demand the best "deal" for their child. Many parents are now willing and able to ferry children around, so popular schools get applications from families who live a long distance away.

But there has been no equivalent rise in primary appeals and there is unlikely to be one in the near future, particularly as standards have been rising across the board. In any case, primary intake numbers are falling nationally, and look set to do so for some years to come.

However, in the secondary sector, the polarisation between schools is likely to continue. These figures pre-date the widespread growth in specialist schools and the problems of staff recruitment that some schools have faced over the past two years. The creation of specialist schools and, more recently, the academies, may well prompt even more appeals as parents pursue what they see as the "best" or most appropriate schools for their children.

Happily, the downturn in pupil numbers will start to be felt by secondaries from about 2004 onwards. With luck, this will alleviate some of the pressure on popular schools, allowing them to satisfy more of the demand for places. It would be even better to create a system where parents were satisfied with the education provided by all schools.

John Howson is managing director of Education Data Surveys and a visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University. Email: john.howson@lineone.net

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