Exclusive: Half of secondaries oversubscribed

Heads are warning of the 'crippling' impact of popularity on their schools

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At least half of England’s secondaries are now oversubscribed, according to exclusive research seen by TES, causing headteachers to warn of the burden as the problem is set to get worse. 

The proportion of secondaries with more applications than pupil places rose to 50 per cent this year for the first time in a generation, figures from the FindASchool website show.

And the rate – which stood at just 43 per cent two years ago – is expected to get higher still, because of the bulge in secondary pupil numbers over the next five years.

The research comes as thousands of parents are choosing their preferred secondary school choices ahead of the deadline on October 31. 

'Extraordinary costs'

Headteachers are complaining of the “struggle” that schools are facing because of oversubscription. Challenges include:

  • A lack of money to cover the costs of taking on additional pupils;
  • Staff having to spend up to three weeks out of school to deal with appeals during the crucial run-up to exams;
  • Difficulties in recruiting extra teachers in core subjects;
  • The need to sacrifice staffrooms and office space to make room for extra classes.

Rob McDonough, headteacher of the West Bridgford School in Nottinghamshire, told TES that the costs of being oversubscribed were “extraordinary”. “What’s crippling me is funding the pupil expansion,” he said. “That’s worrying me now because [the reserves are] gone.”

The FindASchool study analysed the admissions arrangements of 87 per cent of England’s state secondaries.

Data is still missing from some schools that control their own admissions, but the researchers expect the proportion of oversubscribed institutions to rise above 50 per cent when all the figures are in. And they say that changing demographics will worsen the situation for secondaries in the future.

Ed Rushton, founder of FindASchool – a school-checking service run with 192.com – said: “Our figures, which, incidentally, the government does not collect, suggest the problem is getting worse.

“Given the large bulge in primary school numbers, this trend is likely to continue unless lots of extra schools are opened and more school places are added where they are most needed."

A Department for Education spokesman said: “We are delivering good-quality school places to ensure that every child has an excellent education that allows them to reach their full potential.

“Our latest data shows that nearly 600,000 additional pupil places were created between May 2010 and May 2015, and we are investing £7 billion in new places up to 2021.

“Thanks to that hard work and investment, 1.4 million more pupils are now in good or outstanding schools than in 2010.”

This is an edited version of an article in the 14 October edition of TES. Subscribers can view the full article here. To subscribe, click here. This week's TES magazine is available at all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here.

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