Students in the UK’s largest cities, like London and Birmingham, are facing intense competition for admissions to their first choice of secondary schools because of a sharp rise in the number of applicants. National Offer Day, this year on March 2nd, brought disappointment to many 11-year-old students and their families.
The Pan London Admissions Board reports that 68% of the city’s children got their first choice this year and 88% were placed in one of their top three. Some boroughs are more competitive than others, with Hammersmith and Fulham being the fiercest, writes Steven Swinford of The Telegraph. Helen Jenner, the organization’s chair, says:
London’s schools have long been recognized as the best in the country, with outcomes well above national levels, which means that parents are keen to secure a place for their children in the capital. … London boroughs are working with schools to expand the number of places they can offer, but the higher cost of land and construction in the capital means this is often difficult and expensive.
A spokesman from the Department of Education said:
Since 2010 the government has invested more than £5 billion to create more than 445,000 new school places — more than double the amount invested in the previous four years– and last year, over 95% of parents got one of their top three choices.
Students who were not offered a place at any of their six chosen schools (about 6.5% of applicants) have been offered an alternative and advised of their options, but many students will choose to appeal. Services like the Ace Centre for Education and Coram Children’s Legal Centre will provide help through the process of dealing with an Independent Appeal Panel (IAP). Even if a student accepts an offer at one school, they can appeal the decision of another’s, and can therefore get on a waiting list for their number one choice. Parents who want to appeal need to start as soon as possible to meet the deadline, which is usually 20 days after the school’s decision.
According to Sally Weale, The Guardian’s education correspondent, this problem has reached the level of a crisis as rising birth rates cause overcrowding in Britain’s schools. The number of applicants has risen 4% this year in addition to last year’s 5%, says Sean Coughlan of the BBC News.
Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said:
Insufficient provision for the school population is not a surprise; it has been clearly signaled and warned about for years. The current system of allowing free schools costing millions of taxpayers money to open in an ad hoc fashion depending on the wishes of small groups of interested individuals simply exacerbates the school place crisis.
Oliver Beach of The Telegraph gives advice to parents of disappointed students. He says that they should remember that every school has its strengths and that they can get involved to make a school even better. It is key for parents to stay supportive and positive as their preteen children embark on this new adventure, says Beach.