National offer day was March 1st. This was the day when Local Authorities in England communicated offers of secondary school places to parents of children due to transfer to secondary school in the coming September. However, it was only recently that detailed statistics relating to national offer day were published. Each year, parents whose children are due to transfer to state secondary school the following September apply to their Local Authority for a place for their child. Parents express a minimum of three preferred schools, listing the schools in order of preference. Some Local Authorities enable parents to list up to six prefered schools while others allow only the minimum three. Overall, according to the statistics released by the Department for Education, 85.3% of families received an offer for their first preference school. When an offer is made to one of three prefered schools this figure rises to 95.9%, and increases to 97.6% where families are made an offer for a place at any of their preferred schools. In other words, across England as a whole the vast majority of offers are made for schools identified as the families’ first choice.
A selection of news headlines serves to illustrate that the media gaze is on those not offered a place at their first choice of school. The Guardian ran with One in seven pupils miss out on first choice secondary school, while The Independent interpreted the figures slightly differently in its headline of One in six miss first choice school. Meanwhile, The Telegraph proclaimed its displeasure with its statement of Children ‘forced to accept unpopular secondary schools’ .
These news reports also highlighted regional disparities which show that a higher percentage of places at first preference schools are offered in the North East while the lowest percentages are in London. The Telegraph however, chose to ignore the North East completely in its article.
Figures, by Local Authority are available from the Department for Education’s research and statistics pages. The regional breakdown is shown in the following table.
% 1st preferences offered
|Yorkshire and the Humber||
|East of England||
While it seems that if you live in the North East of England you will have the greatest chance of being offered a place at your first preferred school, this is not the case in Middlesbrough where the figure is 79.9%. However, you can be almost certain of an offer at your first choice of secondary school if you live up the coast in Hartlepool. While London is identified as the worst place for getting into the school of first preference, there is, in contrast to the overall inner London figure, a relatively high chance of securing your first place if you live in Newham where 82.4% of places were offered to schools of first preference. Making these comparisons between regions and between authorities is limited without further context knowledge about the socio-economic context in which preferences regarding school choice are made.
The discourses surrounding the publication of these figures equates preferred schools with ‘good schools’. It is assumed that the higher the number of pupils who are offered a place at their 1st choice of school means the high the number of ‘good’ schools available in that area. It is the rhetoric of the education market place. This was expressed by the Minister of State for Schools, Nick Gibb, when releasing the figures:
“Parents are faced with an extremely competitive and stressful process for securing a place for their children. We want to ease this pressure by creating more good school places, which is the driver behind all our reforms to the education system” (DFE, 2012)
However, this simplifies the process of school choice, in particular avoiding any recognition of social class differences in choosing secondary schools (as discussed in the selected sources below). There is more analysis that can be done with these figures beyond the simplistic, but appealing comparative analysis provided in the mainstream press.