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Primary school first choices hit record high as rolls fall

DfE data shows 93.2% of primary school applicants got their first choice of school for this September

DfE data shows 93.2% of primary school applicants got their first choice of school for this September

The proportion of primary pupils getting their first-choice school has risen to its highest ever level as applications continue to drop amid the falling rolls crisis.

Department for Education data published this morning shows the first preference school rate for primary applicants for this September rose by 0.7 percentage points to 93.2 per cent.

This is the highest since data for primary admissions was first published in 2014, when it stood at 87.7 per cent.

The rise follows a drop last year of 2.3 per cent in primary school applicants. Numbers have been falling since 2020 after a sustained drop in birth rates since 2016.

Meanwhile, at secondary level, the proportion of applicants getting their first choice school increased by 0.3 percentage points to 82.9 per cent, following a fall in 2023.

However there was also a 1.7 per cent drop in applicants last year – the first drop since 2020.

Regional disparities

As always though, there is large regional variation.

At secondary, this ranges from a first preference rate of 97.4 per cent in Dorset and 97.3 per cent in Sunderland to 62.4 per cent in Hammersmith and Fulham and 63.2 per cent in Lewisham.

In London, applicants have a larger choice of schools so the ability to name six choices “may encourage parents to make more speculative choices for their top preferences”, the DfE said.

The same applies in primary. The three councils with the highest first preference rate – all above 99 per cent – were Cumberland, North East Lincolnshire and Redcar and Cleveland.

The lowest were Kensington and Chelsea (75.4 per cent) and Westminster (82.1 per cent).

The former council has had some of the lowest first preference rates since 2015, but it has increased by five percentage points since 2023.

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