Academies making it harder for councils to provide first-choice school places

More than half of local councils saw a drop in the proportion of children given their first choice of secondary school, a report on secondary school figures revealed, fuelling evidence that councils were finding it increasingly difficult to accommodate for a growing number of pupils.

The figures, analysed by the Press Association, were taken from Department for Education data for the past year concerning secondary school admissions across the country.

The news, which was announced yesterday on National Offer Day, found that 68 authorities experienced a drop in the proportion of children who were offered one of their overall preferences in 2016.

The analysis also found that 65% of councils had seen the proportion of pupils offered one of their overall preferences had also gone down over the period of five years.

Responding to the figures, Cllr Ian Hudspeth, County Councils Network spokesman for Children, Young People, and Learning, and leader of Oxfordshire County Council, said: “The importance for parents in getting their children into their preferred school cannot be understated, and despite clear pressures on public services, county authorities continue to ensure thousands of families receive first choice school places up and down the country.

He added: “This is testament to the hard work, planning, and forward thinking of county teams up and down the country.

“But with demand for school places intensifying – with 750,000 estimated to be needed by 2025 – local authorities should be given statutory powers to require academies to expand, where there is clear need in an area, in tandem with councils’ statutory requirement for providing sufficient school places.”

Cllr Hudspeth also warned that without flexibility and sufficient funding it will remain difficult for local authorities to fulfil their duty of providing enough places for pupils.

Cllr Richard Watts, chair of the LGA’s children and young people’s board, said: “Creating an extra 300,000 primary places over recent years is a demonstrable record that councils are doing everything they can to rise to the challenge of ensuring no child goes without a place.

“However, as children move on to secondary schools, the majority of which are now academies, councils are working with one hand behind their backs to help as many as possible receive a place at their first-choice school.

“If they are to meet the demand for secondary school places, then existing academy schools should be made to expand where required, or councils should be given back the powers to open new maintained schools.”

A spokesman for DfE said that the government were working to increase the number of school places to ease the problem: “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 £23bn investment in the school estate up to 2021.”

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