What is secondary schools?

National secondary school offer day: everything you need to know

A secondary school pupil in an art class. Last year 84.2% of children were offered a place at their top choice school.A secondary school pupil in an art class. Last year 84.2% of children were offered a place at their top choice school. Photograph: Photofusion/Rex

What is offer day?

It’s been a long time coming but on Tuesday more than half a million children who are in their final year of primary school find out whether they got into their first choice of secondary school.

After hours spent reading prospectuses, attending open evenings and filling in forms, parents submitted their applications for a secondary school place in England at the end of October. After months of waiting they will begin to receive email notifications on Tuesday afternoon, and letters later in the week, informing them which school their child will go to in September.

So, nothing to do with children starting primary school then?

No, but I can see why you’re confused. There’s another national offer day for places at primary school, which falls on 18 April this year, when we go through a similar exercise. This one, however, is purely about 11-year-olds who are currently in year 6 and who are being allocated a places at secondary school by their local authority.

Can we expect celebrations all round?

There will be lots of happy families for whom the email from their local authority will be confirmation of all their hopes. Last year 84.2% of children were offered a place at their favourite school, which sounds high, but that means 84, 000 families who did not get their preferred choice were left disappointed.

It’s getting worse – there were 7, 000 more disappointed families in 2015 than the year before, and there are fears there will be even greater disappointment this year.

Why so?

A rise in the birth rate has been putting enormous strain on primary schools in recent years, and that population bulge is now beginning to move up into secondary. As a result, some councils this year have received more secondary applications than they will have spaces for in September.

According to figures obtained by the specialist education law firm Simpson Millar under a freedom of information request, Hounslow in west London is one of the most popular, with a difference of almost 2, 250 applications; Buckinghamshire has a gap of just under 2, 000 and Trafford Metropolitan just over 1, 200.

What do parents do if they don’t get into the school of their choice?

The government points out that last year, despite rising pupil numbers, 95% of parents received an offer at one of their top three preferred secondary schools. But parents who aren’t happy can appeal, and increasingly they are doing so. According to Simpson Millar, appeals by parents against their child’s school allocation went up by 10% between 2014 and 2015.

But it’s a tricky old business. Last year there were 54, 600 appeals, and just over a fifth of appeals that went before a panel ruled in favour of the parents. The chances of success are far greater in some areas than others.

Imogen Jolley, head of education law at Simpson Millar, said there appeared to be a regional lottery when it came to secondary school appeals. “We’ve carried out a further review and found staggeringly low appeal success rates in a number of districts including Portsmouth, Westminster, Newham and Kensington, while parents in the Isle of Wight, north Somerset and Barnsley enjoyed some of the country’s highest success rates.”

Take me through it step by step

First of all, don’t panic, says Matt Richards, of schoolappeals.com. “Just because you’ve not got what you want on 1 March, 4 and 5 September when school starts is a long way off and there’s always a lot of movement.”

The first step is to contact the admissions authority, which may be the council or the academy or free school itself that you want to get into, and ask to be put on the “continuing interest list”.

In the meantime you can start an appeal process. If you get your third preference you can appeal for a place at your first or second choice; if you didn’t get any of your six choices you can appeal against all of those decisions.

Can you do it yourself or do you need legal advice?

You don’t need legal advice, but increasingly it seems parents who can afford it are seeking it, sometimes spending thousands of pounds on their efforts to secure a place at a highly sought-after school in what is becoming an increasingly competitive environment.

Interesting facts:

Matija Čop (26 January 1797 – 6 July 1835), also known in German as Matthias Tschop, was a Slovene linguist, literary historian and critic.
Čop was born in the small Upper Carniolan town of Žirovnica, in what was then the Habsburg Monarchy (now in Slovenia), into a...

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