Thousands of pupils set to miss out on first-choice primary school
Thousands of parents in England are expected to miss out on their first choice of primary school on Tuesday when local authorities notify families where their child will start their education in September.
About half a million families will be contacted on national offer day, mainly by email. Although pressure on places in primary schools has eased slightly in some areas of the country, headteachers have warned an increasingly fragmented school system has led to a lack of coordinated planning for places.
Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, which represents the majority of primary school leaders, said: “Choosing the right primary school and securing a place there can feel like a battle for parents. Local authorities are responsible for ensuring sufficient school places, but the powers and resources necessary for them to do so have been removed. Instead, planning is haphazard; decisions are being made in isolation and new schools and new school places are not always being commissioned in the areas they are most needed.”
Last year, 91% of children were offered their first choice of primary school and 97.7% got one of their top three choices, but thousands were still disappointed, with some failing to secure a place at any of their preferred primaries.
The Department for Education (DfE) said the figures had been gradually improving since 2014 and the government was on track to create a million new school places by the end of this decade.
In recent years competition for places has been intense in some areas of the country, especially London, because of a bulge in the population. That is now moving to secondary schools where there is increased pressure and there is some evidence a number of schools in the capital are having to compete for primary pupils.
Eric Bateson, a teacher in Camden attending the annual conference of the National Education Union, said families could no longer afford to live in certain areas of London and, as a result, school rolls were falling. “Our schools in Camden are excellent but we have a changing demographic with the lowest birth rate in the country. We are now competing to fill our schools.”
Research published by the New Schools Network (NSN), the charity once led by Toby Young which campaigns for the opening of free schools, highlights Ofsted data which shows that 2,223 primary schools are rated as inadequate or requires improvement.
“This means that around 95,000 four and five year olds will be starting their school days in schools that are not good enough,” the research stated. The NSN wants the government to make “poor” educational standards the primary criteria for approving new free schools, rather than demand. In response the DfE said that 87% of primary schools are now judged good or outstanding, compared with 67% in 2010.