In winter last year 441 parents of final year primary school children told the Leeds education authorities that the secondary school they most wanted their child to go to was Roundhay. The school has places for 250.
In winter last year just 18 parents told the education authorities that the school they most wanted for their child was City of Leeds. The school has places for 150.
Data has just been released on parents’ preferences for admission to Leeds secondary schools in September 2012. And same as last year we’ve drawn up a list of which schools are getting the parents’ vote.
The Top 40 chart below (it’s a Top 38 really, but that doesn’t sound much good in a headline) is based on the number of parents putting down each school as their first choice for their kids, expressed as a percentage of the annual intake of that school.
In an ideal world, every school would have its available places (which are worked out by the council to reflect the local need) filled by kids whose parents put it down as their first choice.
This chart attempts to measure how close we’re getting to that in Leeds.
Here’s how it works. If 200 parents choose a school with an annual intake of 200 pupils, the score for the school on the chart is 100%. If 200 parents choose a school with an intake of 250, the score is 80%. And if 200 choose a school with an intake of 150, it’s 133%.
So, what does this year’s chart – which reflects the preferences given by parents to Leeds City Council’s education team in winter 2011 – show?
Here’s the chart (you can click on it to see it more clearly) and then some observations below it.
Before some observations, a quick caveat: the number of kids entering secondary school has been going through a cyclical dip over the past 10 years – and particularly the last two – so there were more places to take up in September 2012 than available kids.
But we’re presuming that that demographic trend – which comes to an end this year with larger cohorts about to leave Leeds primary schools – generally evens itself out across postcodes (If you know otherwise, please let us know).
Also worth noting that while Leeds doesn’t operate strict catchment areas for its schools, schools in one area of the city aren’t “competing” against schools in another for parents’ affection, just the ones nearby.
Click on the map (above right) and you can see roughly how parents’ first choices work out geographically across the city.
* the gap between the top of the chart (Roundhay 176%) and the bottom (City of Leeds 12%) is stark – and growing
* schools in the suburbs and with “aspirational” postcodes are mostly over-subscribed (surprise, surprise) …
* … apart from in Wetherby and Boston Spa (see map). Is it that there just aren’t enough 11-year-olds to go round in that part of the local authority, or is there more to it than that?
* there are three Catholic schools in the top nine (see below for council survey findings)
* Some schools are definitely “on the up” in parents’ eyes – Leeds West Academy (fomerly Intake High) , up to 19th this year from 32nd – and the Cooperative Academy (formerly Primrose High), up 12 places to 23rd
* Some schools – like Guiseley this year – suffer a dramatic drop in the ratings from one year to the next (anyone any idea why?)
Academic performance the top priority?
According to those who responded to a council survey last year, a school’s academic performance is parents’ top priority, with its location and “reputation” coming second and third.
That’s a change from last year when discipline and behaviour scored more highly, says a council report.
“The majority of parents felt there was a good range of schools available. Almost 54% of parents who responded to this question stated that they held a religious belief, but only 34% would apply only for a school of their own faith,” says the report, and adds interestingly: “Of those parents who have no religious belief 55% would still preference (sic) a faith school.”
“Parents indicated that they were most influenced on school choice by friends and relatives, the school’s open day and the Ofsted report. Up to 35% of respondents did not understand the different types of school available, for example, academy, free school, Foundation school.”
Academic performance the priority?
While schools that do well academically are undoubtedly popular with parents, it’s not always the case. Compare this chart of the Top 38 schools by GCSE results (the standard 5+ A* to C measure) with the Top 40 chart for parental choice and there are plenty of exceptions.
Given their GCSE results, Garforth, Guiseley, Wetherby, Ralph Thoresby, Crawshaw and Boston Spa should all be more popular than they are. And Rodillian and Corpus Christi less so.
There’ll be reasons, but I don’t know what they are. Anyone?
Bad reputation, good reputation
What is pretty clear is that reputation sticks. And when things go wrong, prospective parents run a mile. Which seems to be what has happened with Swallow Hill – the PFI community college that opened three years ago, replacing the West Leeds and Wortley high schools.
In the year the school opened, 236 parents put it down as first choice for their kids. A good performance, given that they were chasing 240 places. Following poor GCSE results in 2010 (the worst in the city) the first-choice applications took a tumble.
Things got worse in 2011. A notice to improve was issued by Ofsted in January and in the following month there were reports in the local press that social networking site Facebook had been allegedly used to organise fights between gangs of pupils.
Despite the fact that Ofsted noted improvements in performance as early as September of the same year, only 99 parents put it down as first choice for their children in December.
A bad reputation sticks.
And so does a good one.
Take top-of-the-table Roundhay. Of 779 parents not given their first preference in the September 2011 admissions process, over a quarter were asking for Roundhay, according to a report from the education authorities. And they kept asking despite being advised that they were not likely to be offered a place.
Is it because of the school’s academic achievement? Not particularly.
While the vast majority of the city’s 38 secondary schools have improved their academic performance over the last three years in terms of GCSE results, Roundhay hasn’t. It still does well, of course, but not as well as less sought-after schools like Woodkirk, Garforth or Guiseley.