Massive divides across country as children are allocated secondary school places

Last updated at 12:12 06 March 2008

School children

While children in certain areas of the country have all been awarded their first choice schools, others have missed out

There were vast divides in school place success rates across the country as thousands of children learned if they had secured a spot at their first choice of secondary school, a survey revealed.

On average eight out of 10 children across England were offered their preferred school, however, a BBC survey revealed that the actual success rate varied hugely depending on where the child was from.

The survey of 107 out of 150 education authorities in England shows that in London, an average 64 per cent of children were offered their first choice, compared with 85 per cent in the rest of England.

This week more than half a million families were told which secondary school their children would attend in September.

The City of London was the only authority where everyone got a place at their first choice of school.

In Leicestershire, Redcar and Cleveland, 98 per cent of 10 and 11-year-olds will be joining their first choice secondary schools after the summer break.

However, there are exceptions to the largely positive results, such as Birmingham, where less than two thirds of children got into their first choice schools.

The BBC reports its survey also suggests there may be more unsatisfied parents this year, with more than half of the authorities who took part recording a smaller proportion of successful first preferences than last year.

Official statistics are due to be published next week by the Department for Children, Schools and Families.

It was previously reported than 100,000 youngsters - at least one in five - were believed to have missed out on a place at their preferred secondary.

There has been an increase in the proportion of families who were left disappointed in regions which have massively over-subscribed schools.

Some of these areas use school lotteries to decide places where there is high demand.

It emerged that the Conservatives regard this random allocation system as "inequitable and unfair" and want to scrap it.

Michael Gove, the party's education spokesman, added that children's schooling should not be "decided by the roll of the dice".

In Northamptonshire, where four schools use a lottery, the numbers getting their first choice of secondary dropped from 83 per cent in 2007 to 81 per cent this year.

In Brighton and Hove - the first city to allocate places at over-subscribed schools using the system - the figure fell from 83.6 per cent to 78 per cent.

There was also a drop in the first choice success rate from 80.3 per cent to 79.1 in Hertfordshire, where seven single-sex schools use lotteries.

A spokesman for the county council blamed this on an overall increase in the number of pupils applying for a place.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said: "What we don't have is a simple, transparent way of deciding who gets the places.

"It makes it something of a nightmare for parents.

"There's going to be a lot of disappointment. Nothing's been done to improve the process since last year when 100,000 parents didn't get their first preference."

The tightening of the school admissions code is believed to have had an impact this year.

This aims to stop schools from surreptitiously selecting middle-class pupils - who will boost their league table position - by banning the use of telephone and face-to-face interviews.

The code also backs the use of lotteries.

Schools Minister Jim Knight insisted parents have more choice than a decade ago.

He said: "There will always be popular over-subscribed schools with more applications than places.

"Instead of leaving poor performing schools to continue failing their pupils, we want to turn every school into a good school."

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