There are signs that fewer children are gaining places at their first choice of secondary school in a number of areas of England, a survey suggests.
Hundreds of thousands of families across England are finding out which secondary school their child will be joining this autumn, on what is commonly known as National Offer Day.
Early indications from a PA news agency survey of local authorities suggest that a youngster’s chances of winning a place at their preferred school varies significantly depending on where they live.
The survey, sent to councils across England, excluding London, suggests that a number of local authorities have seen a decline in the proportion of children receiving their first preference compared to last year.
Early figures, from 30 councils which provided comparable data, show that 17 have seen a fall in the proportion of pupils getting their first preference, 11 have seen a rise and two have seen no change.
Among the areas where high proportions of pupils have obtained their first preference are the East Riding of Yorkshire, where 96.9% got their top choice, and Barnsley where 96.9% also were offered their first pick.
In comparison, in Kent, only 69.7% of children got their first preference, a fall on last year, while in Wokingham 71.3% got their top choice.
Kent County Council said it expected the number of first-choice places to fall this year as parents selected their six preferred schools before knowing whether their child had passed the grammar school entry test.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union Naht, said feelings of anxiety among families waiting to hear if their child had secured their preferred place will have been “heightened by the confusion and uncertainty” caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
He said: “Schools have gone to great lengths to find innovative solutions so that parents can make informed choices, but the reality is that in many instances families could be applying for schools they simply haven’t been able to visit in person.
“It is vital that no child going through the admissions process this year should be disadvantaged. Support must be in place for families to navigate what can be a daunting process.
“For those families not getting their first choice of school, the appeals process will be going ahead, albeit virtually. This process must be as robust as ever and be made clear to parents through effective communication and advocacy, where required.”
England’s school system has been put under pressure due to a rise in the school-age population.
This has been fuelled by a spike in the birth rate in the early 2000s that has now made its way through primary schools and is moving into secondary schools.
Official data shows that 82.2% of pupils were offered their first choice of secondary school last year.
A Department for Education spokesman said: “With all children set to return to classrooms from March 8, delivering good school places in all corners of the country continues to be a priority for this Government.
“We have already created over one million places in the last decade, the largest increase in at least 20 years, and are spending nearly £500 million to provide the places needed for 2023.”