Secondary School Choice in England

The Education Policy Institute has released new analysis on Secondary school choices in the UK. The data looks at the percentage of students who obtain their first choice in secondary school,the number of schools that parents apply to and the quality of those schools (based on their Ofsted rating as a proxy). The data looks at these statistics for different demographic groups and in different areas to assess whether school choice works better for some than others

You can download the full report here:

Key findings:

Number of Applications

  • Nationally one-third of parents apply to only one school, with nearly three-quarters (72 per cent) of parents stating fewer preferences than the maximum allowed by their local authority
  • There are marked differences between local authorities: the proportion of parents stating only one preference is highest in Northumberland (83 per cent), Central Bedfordshire (75 per cent) and East Riding of Yorkshire (74 per cent) and lowest in Lambeth (7 per cent), Wandsworth (7 per cent) and Hackney (8 per cent)
  • Some parents are more likely than others to apply to only one school: white British families, those with English as their first language and parents of children with low prior attainment are more likely to express a preference for just one school

Ofsted rating of First Preference School

  • One-in-six parents (17 per cent) nominate a most preferred school that is rated less than good by Ofsted – and of these, over a quarter (27 per cent) do so despite having a good or outstanding school as their nearest school
  • Parents who are eligible for the Pupil Premium are much more likely than others to be in this group who bypass their good local school for a less good one further away

Likelihood of being offered First Preference School

  • Success rates are high nationally: 84 per cent of parents are offered their most preferred school and 95 per cent get an offer from one of their top three preferences; but as with the number of preferences, there are stark geographic differences
  • Virtually all parents in some areas – such as Northumberland (99 per cent), Central Bedfordshire (99 per cent) and Cornwall (98 per cent) – are offered their top preference school, so applying to just one school in these (typically rural) areas is low risk
  • At the other extreme, parents are much less likely to be offered their first preference in the London authorities of Hammersmith and Fulham (53 per cent), Westminster (54 per cent) and Lambeth (58 per cent). Of the 20 local authorities with the lowest likelihood of being offered first preference, 19 are in London – with the exception being Birmingham (69 per cent)
  • 5 per cent of parents miss out on all of their top three preferences nationally but there are 24 local authorities where this share is at least 10 per cent*. The highest prevalence is in Hammersmith and Fulham, where one quarter of parents miss out on their top three, followed by 19 per cent of parents in Westminster and 17 per cent in Kensington and Chelsea. 18 of the 24 local authorities are in London – the rest comprise Thurrock (12 per cent), Birmingham (12 per cent), Bradford (11 per cent), Gateshead (11 per cent) North Tyneside (11 per cent) and Slough (10 per cent)
  • 90 per cent of white British parents are offered their most preferred school compared to only 66 per cent of black parents; by contrast there are only modest differences in success rates by Pupil Premium eligibility. However these raw gaps can be misleading as they fail to take into account factors like school quality or local context. As a simple way to address this we focus on just those parents whose most preferred school is good or outstanding and who live in London

Likelihood of being offered First Preference School for London Parents Applying to Good or Outstanding Schools

Among parents in London who apply to good or outstanding schools as their first preference (as a simple way to account for population density and school quality) we find:

  • White British families are 4 percentage points less likely than black parents to apply to a good school yet when they do so they are 19 percentage points more likely to be offered their first preference school
  • Parents of children with low prior attainment are 3 percentage points less likely to apply to a good school than those achieving the expected standards at key stage 2 yet when they do so they are 3 percentage points more likely to be offered their first preference school
  • Families eligible for the Pupil Premium are 2 percentage points less likely to apply to a good school than non-Pupil Premium families yet even when they do so, they remain 3 percentage points less likely to be offered their first preference school
  • It is not clear from this first look at the data whether and to what extent these stark ethnic gaps are replicated elsewhere in the country and what is driving these. We are planning further research over the next two years on the role of parental preferences and admissions in unequal access to good schools, including for primary schools.

Our thoughts

We look forward to seeing the follow up data from this. We recognise that the Ofsted rating is one way of measuring a schools success and as parents will be planning to visit secondary schools in the coming weeks and months they will be gaining a sense of a school being the right place for their child to learn.

We are starting to see data from GCSE results and other sources that are highlighting white British boys as underperforming, whilst there is still a lot to be explored before we raise these concerns further we continue to provide resources and materials that support all young people to thrive.

For further information: Contact us by phone on 01536 680916 or email us at info@youthemployment.org.uk

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