/ Parenting

Secondary school places – it’s a lottery not a choice

Lots of pencil ends

Children going to secondary school in September received their offers yesterday – and my daughter was one of them. She was one of the lucky ones who got her first ‘choice’, but what of those who are disappointed?

I should imagine that mobile phone companies will see a peak in activity as parents and children phone and text with news of secondary school places.

As soon as I found out I rushed to find my daughter. For us it was good news, but I know that there are many people who will be coping with disappointment today.

Where’s the help and advice?

I chose to get the news via email. This arrived, just after five on Thursday night, when – I should imagine – offices were closed to any anxious parent needing to talk to someone. Mind you there was no helpful number on the email anyway; no link to a website with advice, nor anything on the homepage of the local authority’s site.

And I’m sure there were a lot of people who were left with the ‘what do we do now?’ feeling after finding out that they didn’t get their preferred choice of school.

Media reports are quoting figures of one in five children not getting their top choice, I even saw one newspaper quoting as many as half of children being disappointed in the secondary school ‘lottery’. Other reports spoke of lawyers waiting for new business in the form of desperate parents needing help to appeal a decision.

How much choice do parents really have?

It seems a long way from last year when many of us were overwhelmed with the potential ‘choice’. We were led to believe that we had the choice of state schools, community schools, academies, independent, grammar and private (well, maybe a choice for some). But at the end of the day, is there a real choice for every family?

Also, making a ‘choice’ really brought home the responsibility of having to make a decision for my daughter. And while we went through the process, against all instincts, I had to make sure that I did not pass on any anxiety to her. After all, 10 and 11-year-olds really shouldn’t have to worry about making potentially major life-changing decisions at this age.

For us, we have been offered a place by the local school and are very happy with the decision. However, I know of several people who feel that they weren’t so fortunate and my heart goes out to them and anyone else in the same situation.


Hi Jenny,

I’m really glad to hear that your daughter got into her first choice. It must be really hard for those who don’t.

I agree with you although theoretically the choice exists for everyone, in reality it does not work out that way. Many people are restricted by geography. I grew up in rural Dorset, where I was only in the catchment area for one school. Fortunately for me it was a fantastic school – but it still demonstrates that for many people, unless you can move house to be in a certain catchment area, there often isn’t access to the school that you’d most like to attend.

In some ways I think that the choice isn’t necessarily the important bit – all schools should be of a certain standard and offer children a bright future. I believe more should be done to ensure that failing and mediocre schools are brought up to scratch.

This link might be helpful for anyone thinking about appealing the process – it takes you to the Direct Gov site. http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Parents/Schoolslearninganddevelopment/ChoosingASchool/DG_4016309

Good luck to anyone trying to appeal the decision.