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Children less likely to get place at first-choice school than five years ago

PUBLISHED: 11:25 20 June 2019 | UPDATED: 12:03 20 June 2019

Hethersett Academy secured its 'outstanding' Ofsted ranking in 2016. It is one of the county's most oversubscribed secondary schools. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Hethersett Academy secured its 'outstanding' Ofsted ranking in 2016. It is one of the county's most oversubscribed secondary schools. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

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The number of children offered a place at their first-choice secondary school for the coming academic year is at a five-year low, figures show.

According to Department for Education data, 8,141 of the 8,972 secondary school applicants in Norfolk have received an offer for their first-choice school for September 2019 - a rate of 91pc.

In Suffolk 6,681 of 7,441 applicants (90pc) were offered a place at their preferred school.

This represents a fall compared to the previous year, when 92pc of children in both counties got a place at their first-choice school, and echoes a five-year regional trend of fewer children getting an offer from their first choice.

Almost 900 Norfolk children were denied a place at their preferred secondary school for September 2019 while in Suffolk the total was almost 800.

While 97pc of children in Norfolk got a place at one of their three preferred schools - above the national average of 93pc - 311 pupils (3pc) did not get an offer from any of their preferred schools; in Suffolk it was 267 pupils, 4pc of the total.

READ MORE: Which Norfolk secondary have the most empty places for the 2019/20 intake?

It was a similar story in Norfolk's primary schools, which are bracing for an increase in demand over the next few years.

Of the 9,062 applications made for reception class places in the 2019 intake, 92.8pc were given their first choice school - down from 94.4pc of the 8,959 applicants in 2018.

Notre Dame High School in Norwich is among the most popular secondary schools in Norfolk. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYNotre Dame High School in Norwich is among the most popular secondary schools in Norfolk. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Regarding secondary school applications, the Department for Education said the rate was evidence of continuing success in the face of rising pupil numbers.

In Norfolk applications have increased by 19pc since 2014 while in Suffolk they have jumped by nearly a third (29pc) in the same period.

John Fisher, Norfolk County Council's cabinet member for children's services, said all children who applied in time for a secondary school place in the coming year had been offered one.

"We are seeing the birth boom that affected primary schools in recent years beginning to move through to secondary schools and we've invested millions of pounds in creating school buildings to ensure that there are places available in local communities," he said.

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"Parents can apply for a place at any school and popular schools can be oversubscribed. In these cases places are offered based on those schools' admissions criteria and parents have a right to appeal the decision."

Why are some schools more popular?

Ofsted reports still have a significant impact on parents' school choices.

John Fisher, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for children's services. Photo: Broadland District CouncilJohn Fisher, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for children's services. Photo: Broadland District Council

Wayland Academy, which has just had its rating raised from "inadequate" to "requires improvement", had around a quarter of its year seven places vacant for September 2019 as of March 1.

A similar number of places were vacant in the 180-place intake at the Hewett Academy in Norwich, which is shaking off previous troubles, while at North Walsham High School a "requires improvement" judgement in January had a knock-on effect on applications, leaving 36pc of places empty.

At the other end of the scale, Hethersett Academy, which achieved an "outstanding" rating in 2016, had 268 applications for its 200 places for September and fellow "outstanding" school Notre Dame High in Norwich had 75pc more applications than it had places for.

As well as official sources such as Ofsted, social media has enabled parents to share information and anecdotes which could influence decisions.

North Walsham High School said an Ofsted report had a knock-on effect on its applications for the 2019/20 intake. Picture: ANTONY KELLYNorth Walsham High School said an Ofsted report had a knock-on effect on its applications for the 2019/20 intake. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

The situation in primary schools

The picture in secondary school place offers is echoed in Norfolk's primary schools.

Admissions data from Norfolk County Council shows a lower percentage of families got their first-choice school for reception year places for September 2019 compared with the previous year (94.4pc down to 92.8pc).

READ MORE: Revealed: the most popular primary schools in Norfolk

Steven Smart is among around 600 parents and carers who were refused a place at their child's preferred school for the coming year.

His first choice for son Callum was Rackheath Primary near Norwich, where his daughters already attend, but he said he was "distraught" to discover his son had been refused a place there and offered one at another primary school in the Norwich area, despite already attending the Rackheath Bombers Preschool.

Rackheath Primary School declined to comment, but admissions data shows it received 41 applications for the 30 places in its September 2019 intake.

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