Crunch Time: Secondary School choice deadline day.Chance of getting first choice school in decline

++ Over 76,000 children miss out on first choice of school, over 42,000 places created in schools that have seen their results worsen. Free schools most popular type of school with more applications per place ++

Saturday is application deadline day for over 500,000 children who are preparing to make the transition from primary to secondary school. As applications close for parents to make their preferred choices of school, New Schools Network has reviewed the data around secondary applications in recent years to understand the trends that families will face this year.

Competition for first choices heats up

In the 2015/16 applications round many parents had to settle for second-best or worse, with around one in seven families not getting their first choice of school – 76,000 children. A quarter of these children (19,000) did not receive an offer for any of their preferred schools.

The proportion of parents receiving an offer for their first choice of school has declined over the last three years and, with the population of Year 6s having increased by almost 20,000 over the last year, this trend looks set to continue.

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Families in big cities are particularly likely to miss out. In London and Birmingham, more than one in four miss out on their first choice of school, while in the North East and South West over 90% get their first choice school. 


Proportion that missed out on first choice in 2015 (%)

Proportion that did not get any of chosen preferences in 2015 (%)




West Midlands



South East



North West



East of England



Yorkshire and the Humber



East Midlands



South West



North East




As parents face greater competition, new places created in schools that are getting worse

Although at a national level the growth of the primary population has not yet fully impacted on secondary schools, the shortage of good places in major population centres is driving the expansion of schools. In the last four years, 42,000 – over half – of the 79,000 places created in expanding schools were in schools where GCSE results have worsened.

Between 2011 and 2014, schools that have seen the proportion of their students receiving five A*-C GCSEs (including English and Maths) decline have added 42,746 new pupils to their rolls. And almost 14,000 places were added over the last four years in schools rated failing by Ofsted.

Again major urban areas such as Birmingham and Bristol, saw the largest increases in places being created in these poorly performing and badly rated schools. Regionally, London saw the largest number of new places in schools performing poorly:


Increase in pupil rolls in expanding schools with worsening GCSE performance between 2011 and 2014

Total places created in expanding schools between 2011 and 2014




South East



West Midlands



North West



East of England



East Midlands



Yorkshire and The Humber



South West



North East




Free schools most popular type of school

Free schools see more applications per place than any other type of secondary school. Free schools attracted an average of 3.5 applications per place, 50% more than council-run schools which only saw 2.3 applications per place in 2015. Free schools also out-performed maintained schools when it came to the number of first preferences, with an average of 1.1 first preferences per place for secondary free schools compared to 0.9 for schools that remain under local authority control.

And the most popular secondary school in England is a free school – Bradford Girls’ Grammar School, which received 856 applications for only 53 places.

Smaller schools also prove more popular with parents, with 2.75 applications per place on average for the smallest intakes in 2015, compared to 2.18 for the largest.


Nick Timothy, Director of the New Schools Network, said:

“Picking the right secondary school is difficult enough for parents at the best of times, but for those in big cities unable to move into the right catchment areas, the chances of getting their first choice school are falling fast. For too many parents their only choice is a school that isn’t good enough.

“Councils are responding by creating more places, but too often they are expanding the worst-performing schools, rather than opening free schools. We badly need more new good schools to create places that parents want so we can drive up standards and help to provide a real choice for families across the country.

“Free schools are already the most popular type of school with parents.  And they are better placed to drive up standards because they put heads, teachers, parents and governors in charge rather than politicians and bureaucrats.”


Review the full press release with notes and analysis.

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