With a burgeoning baby boom coming to fruition, the primary school system in England is facing criticisms left and right from parents seeking quality education for their children, and finding that first preferences are now far from reach.
In the first national offer day for primary schools, a sharp decline in first choice placements around certain areas of the country has councils racing to create and open more classrooms to accommodate the rise in attendance.
Across England, over 600,000 new students are racing to claim reception class seats spread over thousands of state primaries. Some unlucky boroughs and townships are burdened with inflated population influxes prompted by one of the highest birth rates seen since the 1950s postwar baby boom.
To dispel concerns and possible panic over availability of primary seats, London boroughs maintain that the same number of first preferences have been awarded as was given in 2013, but add that the record number of applicants this year has resulted in many not receiving their first choice.
The number of four year-old, or reception-aged, applicants surpassed 100,000 for the very first time in London, with 102,441 requesting particular placements in comparison to just 99,107 asking for the same last year.
Current numbers show that across London’s 32 boroughs, about 81 percent of applicants received their first preference placement, remaining unchanged from 2013. In addition to this, about 95 percent of applicants received a placement in one of their six preferences.
Helen Jenner, chair of the Pan-London Admissions Board, said “London boroughs are working with local schools to ensure each child has a school place for the start of term. The increasing demand for places coupled with the popularity of London's schools means it is becoming increasingly challenging."
When applying for a state school, applicants may list up to six schools as their preference, in order of first to sixth choice. Outside of the London boroughs, families have the option of naming up to three top choices.
Shadow Education Secretary, Tristram Hunt, believes the government is to blame, as they failed to provide sufficient seats in areas where they were most needed.
"Before the 2010 general election, David Cameron promised us small schools and smaller class sizes. The reality is there are more than double the number of infants in class sizes of more than 30 and three times as many 'titan' primary schools with more than 800 children than in 2010," Hunt said.
Yet supporters for the current system urge that placements went as well as they could, given the circumstances. "The figures for this year show again that the effort and planning that goes into school admissions is very effective and gives families the best chance of getting a school of their choice," said Roger Gough, Kent's cabinet member for education and health reform.