How much does the provision of free transport affect the choice of secondary school in London? What is clear from data published recently by the DfE is that pupils in London, and especially those living in Inner London, are among the most mobile in the country, especially at secondary school level when it comes to attending a state school outside the boundaries of the local authority where they live. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/schools-pupils-and-their-characteristics-january-2018
The percentage of pupils living and attending schools in a local authority, as a percentage of resident population, ranged from almost 100% in Cumbria to just 54.6% in Knowsley in Merseyside. However, along with Reading, at just less than 64% attending schools in the borough, these latter two authorities were very much outliers. Some 26 of the 30 mainland local authorities with the lowest percentage of their resident population attending schools in the authority at secondary school level were London boroughs. I don’t know how much of the explanation in Reading is a combination of the presence of two highly selective schools and a distribution of schools dictated during the twenty years when Reading was part of the County of Berkshire before it was broken up into different unitary authorities.
History, as well as free transport, may also play a part in the reasons why London figures so largely in the authorities with the most movement. For around a century, school building in Inner London was governed by a single agency; first the LCC and then the ILEA (Inner London Education Authority) that was abolished by Mrs Thatcher’s government. In outer London, although the creation of the boroughs dates back more than 50 years, many of the secondary schools in north and west London were built on sites created by the former Middlesex County Council.
The creation of academies, free schools, UTCs and studio Schools will also have help encourage movement of pupils, but, I suspect, to a lesser degree than the historical location of schools.
Although there is cross authority movement at the primary school level, it tends to be at a lower level as most pupils will attend their nearest school except when different demographic pressures put pressure on specific schools in urban areas creating a movement across boundaries. By contrast, the movement across local boundaries for pupils in the special school sector is higher than in either the primary or secondary sectors in many local authority areas. This is not really a surprise, since creating specialist schools is often more cost effective if they can reach a certain size and not every authority wants to provide specialist provision for every type of need.
Outside of London, many of the pupils moving across boundaries will have to pay for their own travel costs, as authorities have modified their travel policies, in an effort to reduce expenditure. However, county council’s expenditure on travel is still a large burden to many authorities, especially for children living in rural areas where the local bus service has now disappeared and either a special bus must be run or a taxi provided at significant cost to the authority.