For some parents this Easter will be a time for celebration as the results of ‘destiny day’ – the day when children starting formal schooling were told which school they will be attending in September – is celebrated. For other parents, whose children have been assigned their second or third choice of school; or in some cases none of those they asked for, the mood will be no doubt be more downbeat. I can sympathise. As I have mentioned before, in 1952 my brother and I failed to secure places at the first choice school identified by our parents, a small one form entry Church of England primary school, and instead went to a four form entry infant school that was admittedly nearer to where we lived.
So, parents of children born in years when the population is growing in an area are always going to struggle to secure a place at the school of their choice, especially as it doesn’t make good sense to have too many places standing empty when they are not needed, even though a reservoir of places to cope with peaks in demand is sensible.
What may worry parents more these days is if the expansion of places to meet growing demand isn’t always in the best performing schools. Now I am aware that Ofsted judgements are moveable feasts; and school can and do improve, as well as in some cases perform less well over time. Also, some new schools haven’t even been inspected by Ofsted. However, the DfE has recently published a Basic Need Scorecard with interesting data about the distribution and cost of new places in each local authority.
Some 25 local authorities were coded red in the DfE dashboard as the percentage of new places in school deemed ‘good’ or better by Ofsted up to 2103 was seen as concerning. Many of the authorities in the code red group were small unitary of other urban authorities. Interestingly, only three were London boroughs where the most noise about this issue seems to be generated in the press. Only one authority, Westminster, was an inner London borough. By contrast, there were eight shire counties in the group, ranging from Shropshire to Essex, and from North Yorkshire to Wiltshire. I suspect that if we were able to find the individual schools in these counties where places been increased, even though Ofsted was less then complimentary about aspects of the school, we would find them concentrated in the market towns and larger settlements within the counties rather than in the more rural areas. Answering that question might make an interesting research study for someone to conduct.
When the report on the admissions process is compiled by the Adjudicator, it will be interesting to see whether any other authorities than Oxfordshire, where I am a county councillor, raise concerns about academies not being willing to cooperate over placing pupils even where they have spare capacity. It would be a real irony if choice, meant choice by school as to how many pupils to take, but also an outcome resulting in more cost to rural authorities in additional school transport expenditure because some schools weren’t willing to help accommodate the growing number of pupils.