Thirteen percent of pupils miss out on their first choice of primary school, says The Guardian gloomily. Read it another way, and 87 percent of pupils did get in to the school their parents wanted them to attend in the recent admissions round. This figure has hardly changed since last year, which is extraordinary, given the growing birth rate and tremendous pressure on school places for the new intake at September 2015. By 2011, there had been a rise of 200,000 live births in the UK, compared with 2001, with 700,000 children reaching reception class age by 2015. It is a triumph for local authorities, faced with huge budget cuts, that they have been able to create enough new classroom places to prevent a massive fall in first-choice success. Well done them.
Successful applications vary around England, of course, with up to 20 percent of the new intake not getting an offer for their top choice school in some places. In Greater London, the most overcrowded part of the country, just under 81 percent of pupils received their first choice, and within London the rate fell to 59 percent in Kensington and Chelsea (for some reason, I’m not feeling that sorry for the latter). Reading did worst outside London, with inward migration and rising birth rate meaning only 75 percent got their school of choice. In Birmingham, the figure was around 85 percent.
Mixing up the intake
There are many reasons why parents select a particular school for their children. Often it is down to distance of travel from home, sometimes to what the school offers in terms of extra-curricular activities, sometimes to league table success. As we all know, many of the most in-demand schools are in an affluent area, where school attainment will be high due to parental attitude, access to education and to financial support for the kind of activities that give a child a rounded education.
If I were a parent who had carefully chosen a school for my four-year-old, only to receive a place at a school miles away or with poor educational standards, I would undoubtedly be very disappointed. Everyone wants the best for their child. However, looking at the bigger picture, one wonders what an influx of children from a different educational background could do to drive up attainment levels at a poor-performing school? Most parents of children at such a school will be concerned about poor standards, but could the advent of a more vocal, better-networked group in that parental mix bring greater success in accessing local authority or other funds? Mixing it up a bit could lead to improvement.
What matters overall is that there are places, somewhere, for every child. In many countries of the world, this is not the case. And what matters now, as we weigh up the policies of the different political parties, is that we are sure that there will always be places, as the number of children goes on rising. The Local Government Association has warned that councils face a continuing struggle to keep up with the increased need for school places between now and 2018. It has called for a £12 billion investment by the next government. Let’s hope that demand is met.