“It will inevitably be harder for schools to offer children the education they deserve” – School leaders comment on National Offer Day

Today (1 March) on National Offer Day, parents across the UK will find out if their children have received an offer place at a secondary school of their choice.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the school leaders’ union NAHT, said that there is extra pressure on secondary admissions in 2023 due to the ‘pupil population bulge’ hitting secondary schools.

Mr Whiteman said: “Many schools are particularly oversubscribed, especially in certain areas of the country.

“The government urgently needs to do more to address the recruitment and retention crisis schools are facing so that there are enough suitably qualified, specialist teachers to cope with the growing numbers of pupils moving through the system.

“It has failed to hit its recruitment targets for secondary school staff in eight out of the last nine years and if that doesn’t change it will inevitably be harder for schools to offer children the education they deserve.

“Additionally, there remains a problem that in an increasingly fragmented school system we lack a co-ordinated approach to place planning. Local authorities are responsible for ensuring sufficient school places, but still lack the powers and resources necessary for them to do so.

“Until the government creates a national strategy to guarantee there are enough school places for every child in England, the annual anxious wait for families will continue.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, also commented on National Offer Day, saying: “We would like to send our best wishes to all families receiving school offers today.

“The number of pupils in secondary schools has been rising in recent years and is expected to continue to do so through to 2025. It is therefore very likely that there will be more pressure on secondary school places this year and next. This pressure will be most keenly felt by schools that are already over-subscribed. 

“In most cases these are schools located within affluent areas that have an outstanding or good Ofsted rating.”

Mr Barton went on to say that there are well-known issues around people moving into catchment areas to get their child into these schools.

He said: “This results in other families effectively being priced out and a review of the school admissions code is needed to explore how to provide better access to school places for disadvantaged children. This should examine the impact of requiring schools to prioritise all children eligible for the pupil premium, or in persistent poverty, in a similar way to how they already prioritise looked after and previously looked after children.

 “However, the best way to tackle this inequality is to ensure that there are good school places available to all communities. 

“Schools that are facing the biggest challenges must be given the support they need and Ofsted needs to work more closely with regional Department for Education teams to match issues identified during inspection with the help the school will receive. 

“Consideration must also be given to the impact that negative graded Ofsted judgements, which make it more difficult for schools to attract staff and access certain funding streams, are having on a school’s ability to improve.”

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