Fewer pupils in Blackpool are getting into their first choice secondary school, it was revealed.
New analysis yesterday showed the number of youngsters sitting down for class at their preferred school dropped by almost 20 per cent from 2011 to 2016 – the biggest fall in England.
It also had the largest drop in overall preferences, down eight per cent, which means more pupils are being sent to a school outside of their top three choice, statistics showed.
The figures emerged on the day Year Six pupils across the town were offered places high school places for September – with some parents reporting a similar problem this year too.
A council spokesman said the falls were due to the popularity of two schools which have been heavily over-subscribed for the last few years – St Mary’s Catholic Academy in St Walburgas Road, Blackpool, and St George’s School in Marton.
Coun Kathryn Benson, Cabinet Member for Schools and Learning at Blackpool Council, said: “We always strive to give people their first choice of secondary school. This year we were able to give 84 per cent of applicants their first choice.
“If we are unable to meet first choice requests because of demand or other factors we aim to provide a place in one of their top three choices.
“In 2017 we succeeded in delivering a preferred choice to 95 per cent of applicants.”
What does the analysis show?
Many areas of England have seen falls in the proportion of families winning a choice at a favoured secondary school, according to analysis of government data.
Liverpool, in the North West, saw the biggest drop in first choices, down seven percentage points on 2015, while Hammersmith and Fulham, west London, had the biggest drop in overall preferences year on year.
The City of London saw a hike in the proportion of youngsters gaining their top choice year-on-year, while Windsor and Maidenhead had the biggest rise in overall choice.
This year, e arly figures show in some parts of the country, virtually all youngsters have been offered their first choice, while in others, many are facing disappointment, though overall figures will not be released by the Department for Education until June.
They will come amid continuing concerns about a squeeze on school places, caused in part by a recent rise in the birthrate, that is now seeing its way through into secondary schools.
Between 2015 and 2016, more than half of the nation’s towns and counties saw a fall in the proportions of 11-year-olds winning a place at their first choice.
Last year, 80 out of 151 local councils saw a drop in the proportion of pupils given their first choice of secondary school, compared with the year before, while 68 authorities saw a fall in the percentage given one of their overall preferences.
More than half of authorities, 85 in total, have seen a fall in the proportion of 11-year-olds offered their first secondary school preference over the past five years, while around two-thirds, 98 councils, have seen a drop in overall choices during this time.
Did people get a place at the school they wanted?
Local mum Claire Frith said her child didn’t get their first choice option, and described the school system as a ‘joke’.
And Sarah Drayton said: “I live five minutes from a school but was given one further away.”
Kevin Courtney, general secretary of the NUT, the largest teachers’ union, said: “We hope that parents and children get the secondary school place of choice.
“We know, however, for many this will not be the case resulting in children being separated from siblings or primary school friends and for some will result in travelling longer distances.
“Such anxiety at this important stage in children’s education is unnecessary.”
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “The proportion of parents getting a place at their first choice of school remains stable, and last year almost all parents got an offer at one of their top three preferred schools.
“Nearly 600,000 additional pupil places were created between May 2010 and May 2015, and the government is now pushing ahead with the creation of a further 600,000 new school places as part of its wider £23 billion investment in the school estate up to 2021.”
Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, added: “In some areas there is pressure on places, while in others there is spare capacity. One reason for this situation is that new free schools are not always opened in the areas of greatest demographic need, especially at secondary level.
“Where this is the case, a new free school may create spare capacity in the area, and this can affect pupil numbers, and therefore funding, at neighbouring schools, and in the new free school itself. The government believes this creates competition and drives up standards but there is no evidence that this is the case and it may damage existing good schools in the area.”
Are there enough school places in Blackpool?
There are ‘there or thereabouts’ enough secondary school places in the town, a council spokesman said yesterday.
The number of places required fluctuates on an annual basis, and even led to two schools – Collegiate and Bispham – merging in recent years due to dwindling numbers.
Although a surge in primary school pupils means there is a future need for spaces, the Armfield Academy, due to open in Lytham Road, South Shore, next year, will cater for 1,180 youngsters aged from two to 16.
What is the case elsewhere in the county?
Lancashire is bucking the national trend, with most pupils getting into a secondary school of their choice.
More than 98 per cent of pupils in the county will be attending one of their three preferences.
While thousands were disappointed nationally, data for Lancashire shows that 88.4 per cent of families have been offered places at their first preference, 7.4 per cent will go to schools which were their second, while 2.4 per cent will attend their third preference school and nearly two per cent, 1.8 per cent, have been allocated a place at other schools.
This figure is expected to rise as appeals are heard and other adjustments are made.
County Coun Matthew Tomlinson, cabinet member for children, young people and schools, said: “Waiting to find out which secondary school you’ve been allocated can be an anxious time, for both parents and children. I have first-hand experience of this, so I know exactly how parents feel at this time.”