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On the map - Online applications to secondaries - Yet more evidence of the digital divide

Electronic applications in education have now become commonplace. Most trainee teachers apply online and the same is true for Ucas applications.

Applications for secondary school places seem to be going the same way, if the latest figures from the Department for Children, Schools and Families are a true reflection of what happened this year.

Leaving aside the Wirral, where a nil return ignores the fact that the council has a sophisticated online application process complete with animated "help" clips to guide applicants through the process, the average local authority receives more than four out 10 applications for secondary school places electronically.

Curiously, despite all the debate about the need for high-speed broadband to reach the remote corners of England, it was not generally rural authorities that had the lowest levels of online applications. These were mostly in deprived urban areas. Perhaps this is another signal of the real digital divide in Britain.

Even allowing for the fact that some councils may have run campaigns promoting online applications, the news that more than 70 per cent of Dorset's applications and 92 per cent of those in Devon were received by the internet is remarkable. But even these are eclipsed by North Somerset, where more than 99 per cent of applications came via electronic means. Indeed, the South West, at 76 per cent, was the region with the highest average of online applications.

By contrast, among urban authorities, only just over 5 per cent of applications in North Tyneside, less than 7 per cent in Liverpool and 3 per cent in Newham, east London, came in online. Other urban areas with low percentages included Medway, Portsmouth, Thurrock and Walsall. Only Cumbria, with about 6 per cent, stands out among the rural areas with a low percentage.

Perhaps councils need to ensure that there is access to public computers in areas where home computers cannot be taken for granted. For these figures tell us more about the state of digital Britain than simply how people applied for school places.

- John Howson is director of Education Data Surveys, part of TSL Education.

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