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Stampede for school places
THE most popular schools in Oxfordshire are under pressure to expand after figures revealed that up to eight children are competing for each place in the county.
A total of 25,219 applications have been made this year for the 13,172 spaces there are in the county – although parents can apply for up to three schools they would like their children to go to.
But there is competition to get into the best schools, with large differences in success levels between some of the highest achieving schools in the county and some that are struggling.
The data shows that Oxford Spires Academy is the most popular secondary school while St Andrew’s CoE School in Headington is the most favoured primary.
Based on the number of people who put the schools down as their first, second or third preference, and the number of places offered, there were 8.3 applications per place at St Andrew’s.
Oxford Spires had 2.86 applications per place, more than outstanding rated Cherwell School, often considered the hardest city school to get into.
But while today’s breakdown shows which schools are most in demand, it also illustrates the pressures some establishments face.
Oxfordshire County Council said some schools need to be expanded.
Cabinet member Melinda Tilley said: “When a school is over- subscribed, if it can be expanded, we do. But we do have 95 per cent of people who get into their first choice.
“We are expanding some schools, like Windmill Primary in Headington.”
But measures to expand popular schools clash with budget pressures caused by less cash coming in from the Government to increase school sizes.
Ms Tilley said: “The basic needs budget is short and we do struggle a bit, but I think we do quite well. We are years ahead of other areas.
“When there are new developments, we look at how many new primaries we are going to need and we are working hard on that, especially in expanding towns like Didcot and Bicester.”
Primary schools are far more oversubscribed than secondary, with The Batt CE Primary in Witney having 5.29 applications per place and Thomas Reade in Abingdon seeing 5.13 per place.
Cherwell was put down as first choice more than any other school, receiving 362 first preferences. It was followed by the Cooper School in Bicester, with 300, and King Alfred’s in Wantage, with 296.
There were also more first preferences turned down by the Cherwell in Oxford than elsewhere, with 93 families who put it down as their first choice failing to get in, compared with 84 at the Cooper School, 43 at Langtree in Oxford and Warriner School in Banbury, and 28 at Matthew Arnold in Oxford.
With the primaries, Windmill Primary had the most first preferences, 100, followed by Faringdon Infant with 80.
Three secondary schools only offered places to families that put the school down as their first choice: Burford School; Carterton Community College; and Wood Green School in Witney.
St Andrew’s Primary school headteacher Jude Bennett started at the school last month. She said she believed the school’s community atmosphere was what made it so appealing to parents.
She said: “I was aware I was coming to a very popular and oversubsribed school.
“Our school is on a small footprint, so its capacity for increasing in size is limited by its location.
“But that is one of the things that makes it appealing.”
Spires headteacher Sue Croft said: “I knew we had a lot of second places last year and it is nice to know there is that level of popularity. We are expecting many more people to choose us this year.
However, it is the first place choices that make a difference in terms of where students eventually go.”
The number of first choices the school received also jumped, from 71 last year to 84 for September 2013.
Mrs Croft said: “The children absolutely love the school and children talk about their school with their parents and with other people, so I think that’s why people are beginning to look at Oxford Spires.”
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