Tuesday 4 March 2008

Are school admissions really such a lottery?

Once again, school admissions are at the top of the news agenda. The schools minister, Jim Knight (left), is chided for reminding parents who don't get their chosen school of their right to appeal (since over a third win on appeal, this is surely perfectly reasonable advice, even if school leaders don't want the paperwork). But what is less remarked is the extent to which admissions are less of a lottery now than they were when Labour was elected. For one thing, there are far fewer schools with poor results: Michael Gove may only have been in nappies in 1997, but in that year a full 50% of secondary schools had fewer than 30% of their pupils gaining five good GCSEs in English and Maths. Today, it is a quarter, and the numbers below 25% achieving any five grade C or above GCSEs or equivalent has dipped from over 600 to a couple of dozen, thanks to the development of specialist schools and academies.

Equally, there are far more comprehensive schools topping the 70%+ mark - over 600 now compared with 83 in 1997. And this has been reflected in the appeals figures, where the number of appeals (and their proportion of total admissions) has been falling significantly. In 2002/3, there were 50,200 secondary school appeals heard by an appeals panel; in 2005/6 this had fallen to 41,650; or a reduction from 7.2% to 6.1% of all admissions (appeals lodged fell from 10% to 8.3% over the same period; the difference reflects those that have been withdrawn); moreover the proportion of successful appeals rose from 33.5% to 36.4% over the same period. This suggests that about 4% of secondary parents don't get a school of their choice. Of course, it is higher in London and some other cities like Bristol, and not everyone can ever get their first choice of school; and the work to get more good schools must continue; but the facts suggest a rather better picture than the media are suggesting today.

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