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Pupils learn of school place offers
Children across England are today learning whether they have won a coveted place at their first choice of secondary school, but for tens of thousands of youngsters, the day is likely to have brought disappointment.
Initial figures suggest that in some areas of the country, almost one in four 11-year-olds missed out on a spot at their preferred secondary school, while in others, virtually all youngsters got a place at their top pick.
Last year , almost 66,500 youngsters (13.3%) nationally were not offered a place at their first choice of secondary school, according to government statistics.
About 3.5% did not get an offer from any of their top three choices.
Councils across the country are sending out letters to about half a million families informing them of the school their child has been allocated to this September, on what is commonly known as National Offer Day.
While for many the news will be the result they had been hoping for, others will be let down as competition for the best schools is fierce, particularly in big cities.
A snapshot survey of local councils, conducted by the Press Association, indicates a child's chances of gaining a place at a favoured school varies depending on where they live.
In Cornwall, around 98.9% of children won a place at their first choice of secondary school, along with 96% in Staffordshire, 97.6% in East Riding, 95.4% in Wigan, 97.11% in North Lincolnshire and 96.2% in Leicestershire.
Staffordshire county councillor Ben Adams, cabinet member for learning and skills said: "Giving clear guidance, plus working with schools in Staffordshire and in neighbouring authorities, means we can allocate school places efficiently and, in the vast majority of cases, allocate parents one of their top three preferred schools."
In Bournemouth around one in eight missed out on their first choice, with 88.05% gaining a place at their top preference.
The figures were similar in Bolton (88.6% got their first choice), Leeds (86%), Telford and Wrekin (88%), Poole (88%) and Tameside (88.2%).
But in Sandwell, around one in four did not get a place at their to preference of secondary school (74.62% got a place at their first choice).
In other areas, around one in five pupils missed out on a spot at their favoured secondary. This includes Middlesbrough, where 79.7% got their top pick and Warwickshire (81.62%).
In Milton Keynes 83.1% for their first preference, along with 85.2% in Essex, and 83.6% in Calderdale.
Just under one in 10 missed out on their first choice in Salford, where 91% got their top pick.
In Dorset, 94% of families secured their first preference of secondary school, while in North Somerset this figure was 94.7%, in Doncaster it was 96%, in Shropshire it was 95.1%, in Herefordshire 96.3% got their number one choice and in Cumbria it was 95.9%.
Siobhan Freegard, founder of Britain's biggest parenting site Netmums said finding the right school place causes parents weeks of stress.
"Getting your child into a good school is one of the biggest struggle face by parents," she said.
"There are weeks of stress and worry leading up to admissions day - and for the one in seven families who don't get their first choice school, there are further weeks of stress and worry as they go through the appeals system or seek an alternative school.
"And this year the problem has been exacerbated by a rise in schools offering places by lottery, making it utterly impossible for parents to know whether they stand a chance getting their child in.
"With so many children not winning a place at the school they want, it's clear the system is flawed. More must be done to improve standards at the least popular schools and make them much more attractive to parents and prospective pupils."
In Kent, out of more than 15,600 children applying for a secondary school place, 83.5% got their first choice, along with 83% in Surrey, 82.38% in Brighton and Hove, 86.4% in Leicester, 88.9% in South Gloucestershire,
One in four children in Bradford missed out on their top pick with 76.02% getting their favoured choice, along with one in five in Wolverhampton where 79.2% got their first choice.
In Birmingham, three in 10 pupils did not get their first preference, with 70.3% winning a place at their top choice.
Figures for the 33 London councils show that more than three in 10 pupils missed out on their top pick of secondary school, with 69.21% learning that they have got a place at their first choice.
The Pan London Admissions Board said that the capital's increasing population has meant more young people have been offered a secondary school place this year than ever before. Overall, applications have increased by 4.9%.
The board's chair, Helen Jenner said: " The London-wide system means parents and pupils can be offered a school place of their choice in a fair way based on places available: 95% have an offer from a school of their preference."
She added: " It is important to recognise that no matter what system is in place, it cannot create unlimited additional places in schools and not all parents can be offered their first preference.
"London local authorities are working with schools to expand provision, but as demand for secondary places increases as the primary pupil pressure transfers through the system, so will the challenges."
Around 93.4% of 11-year-olds in Portsmouth got their first choice, 91.7% did so in Wirral, 94.7% in Devon, 93% in South Tyneside, 91.7% in Stoke-on-Trent and 94.4% in Swindon.
Some figures provided by local councils indicate that in a number of areas, fewer pupils are getting their number one school this year, with the data indicating that this may be due to rising application numbers.
In Cambridgeshire, where the total number of applications for secondary school places has increased, 94.68% got their top pick this year, compared to 96.48% last year.
Oxfordshire also saw an increase in applications this year, with the proportion of youngsters receiving their first choice dropping slightly from 92.76% to 90.77%. There was a similar picture in North East Lincolnshire where 90.64% got their top school, compared to 94.11% last year, again with rising applicant numbers.
Oxfordshire council's cabinet member for children, education and families, Melinda Tilley, said: "The county council has consistently had a strong record of ensuring a high percentage of children can attend their first-preference secondary school, and once again it's good news for the vast majority of families. Inevitably, where applications for particular schools exceed available spaces, we can't offer everyone a place.
"In such circumstances an appeal process is available to families wishing to challenge the outcome of their application, and details of how to do this have been sent to parents. Children's names can also be placed on 'continued interest' lists in case places become available at schools."
Bristol saw an increase in applications and the numbers of children given their first preference of school drop from 82% last year to 77% this year, while the proportion getting their top choice in Bath and North East Somerset was 93% this year compared to 95% in 2013 and in St Helens it was 95.74%, down from 96.82 a year ago.
And in Plymouth, 94.59% got their first preference this year compared to 95.36 last year.
An analysis of the data, based on information from 38 councils outside of London, and the 33 London boroughs, suggests that overall, around one in six pupils will miss out on their first choice of secondary school this year.