On the map - Secondary school applications - A third in London miss out on their first choice

8th April 2011 at 01:00

Is the fact that only two-thirds of pupils in London go to their first-choice secondaries good news or bad? The wider range of schools - selective, comprehensive, faith, academies, all with free transport and relatively simple admissions - may inspire parents to look further afield for a secondary than elsewhere.

In Cornwall, where distances and transport costs can deter parents from selecting anything but their local school, 99 per cent of pupils attend their first preference; likewise in North East Lincolnshire; and 100 per cent do so in the Isle of Wight, where reorganisation of schools has reduced choice.

The proportion of secondary pupils getting a place at their first-choice school has been on the rise since the 82 per cent recorded in 2008, the first year data was published in its present form. This year, nearly 85 per cent will already go to their first-choice school, and this number will increase as places arise for various reasons, not least successful appeals. If the London figure is removed from the national total, the percentage across the rest of the country is 88 per cent.

Authorities with selective systems, or even one selective school, attract more applications, so are more likely to appear in the list of LAs with the lowest percentages of first choices achieved: Southend-on-Sea recorded 66.6 per cent; Poole 71.3 per cent; and Slough 46.2 per cent. Other factors are also at work in Slough, dating back to the redrawing of county boundaries in 1974, which affected school selection.

There is a similarly complex position in Southwark, where most secondaries are faith schools, and there are likely to be no community schools once the two academy converters complete the process. These factors may help to explain why just over half of first preferences have been accepted.

Clearly, choice is largely an urban phenomenon. It is debateable whether free transport would bring greater choice or whether offering every pupil a good local school should be a higher priority than worrying about spending money on pupils clogging up the transport system.

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

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