It’s back! The Leeds secondary schools Top 40 – as voted for by you, the parents

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.

Why as a percentage and not just a straight number? Well, it seems fairer.

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.

Quick caveat

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.

Some observations

St Mary’s – one of three Catholic schools in top nine

*  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?

Why do parents choose the schools they choose?

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.


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10 Responses to It’s back! The Leeds secondary schools Top 40 – as voted for by you, the parents

  1. botzarelli says:

    There are clearly factors beyond GCSE results and location at play but given the size of most secondary schools it is possible that there are several different factors in each case and that these may vary depending on the particular child and their background.

    For example, bare stats on overall GCSE grades may well disguise the attractiveness of schools which have non-bell curve distributions of achievement but instead (as my son’s primary school does) have disproportionately high numbers of very high and very low achievers and relatively fewer average achievers. Anecdotally, Lawnswood has something of this or perpetuates it: most children from my son’s primary go to Lawnswood and apparently half the gifted and talented maths class in Y10 are from his school. This is statistically highly improbable given that it is a single form entry primary school and lawnswood’s annual cohort is nine times that. Unsurprisingly the experience of Lawnswood locally is generally very positive whereas it might not be for those from lower achieving backgrounds and schools.

    This might well be a geographic and demographic oddity given that the only non-faith local alternative is City of Leeds (which is slightly closer) so that the risk is of being allocated a place there if you go for Prince Henry’s in Otley and fail to get in (the main non-faith choice from the parents I know and from my time as governor of my son’s primary).

    • Yes, I’m sure you’re right – it’s really complicated. And the GCSE grade measure has a limited value (I toyed with adding another, but wasn’t sure which).

      Still, a hundred individual decisions by parents based on a variety of factors can end up looking like a trend. A trend of “what” is the difficult thing to identify.

  2. Bywater blog says:

    The Guiseley school has recently expanded its role in teaching kids with special needs. Perhaps that is why its dropped down the table? I think all schools should be inclusive, when ever posible. Special needs children can bring extra learning to a mainstream school. I would fully support any such school, including my daughters.

  3. Zemanski says:

    The most inclusive school in Leeds is City of Leeds, it has the best pastoral care and an excellent reputation for supporting children with additional needs. It takes refugee and traveler children and was the first high school in the UK to achieve school of sanctuary status. But it never scores highly in the charts even though many children there do achieve good grades – my daughter did amazingly well especially considering how ill she was during her GCSE year, as did many of her friends.
    I think this is the main reason – the latest Ofsted report actually states that the repeated closure attempts over the last 15 years have been largely responsible for its reputation and consequent poor uptake which I think has suppressed the ability of the school to attract a wide enough section of the population to counter the high intake of children who come for short periods of time from all over the world, brilliant kids but not often there long enough to be good for the statistics. When the head of an education authority goes on TV and the radio and lies about a school including stating that it was not capable of passing an ofsted inspection (it did pass the inspection just a few weeks later) and actually states ………what parent would want to send their child to a school like that?…… (not exact words but very close), what parent would not follow his advice?

  4. Harry says:

    Guiseley school is getting worse year by year my daughter has just left and the behaviour and the ability of teachers to cope is drastically decreasing every year. Although they have expanded there SEN they are unable to cope and manage their behaviour in regular lessons resulting in the whole educational system failing. They have recently unforced a skirt ban, I find this ridiculous as it is down to the schools inability to discipline students in short skirts that caused the problem. Not once have I heard of any child been sent home to change when this was the supposed rule, so they did the ban as a cop out of enforcing rules. I have visited the school many times and its in diar need of maintenance, instead of replacing the floor they should have fixed the more pressing problems such as the extremely dangerous leaky roof which collapsed leaking asbestos into one of the wings. Also a window recently smashed in a classroom narrowly missing students. I feel this school needs a complete overhaul otherwise it will continue to drop in the standings.

  5. Mike says:

    My children are at Roundhay. Their recent Ofsted was Outstanding in every single category, which is very rare. I think the reasons for it’s popularity and success are perhaps fairly simple. They haven’t messed about, they aren’t a faith school, they aren’t an academy, they aren’t part of some educational foundation, they don’t ask for money to educate your children, they aren’t selective. They are a genuine comprehensive, and part of the local authority system. So the staff, head, governors and just concentrate upon running a good school. They haven’t had to faff about changing their status to academy, or worry about attracting wealthy parents like independent schools do. They have a head, Neil Clephan, who is universally admired by every teacher I’ve ever spoken to in Leeds (I’m a teacher), who is very closely involved with his staff and students and appears to have the ability to inspire his teachers. And it’s worth pointing out that Roundhay’s results are lower than other schools who are actually less popular. But that’s easy to explain. Roundhay doesn’t choose it’s pupils. You’ll get in if you satisfy the normal criteria, i.e. you’re near enough (usually). You don’t have to be of a certain religion (or pretend to be), you don’t need to pay fees, you don’t need to pass entrance exams.

    We’re quite hands on parents in terms of our children’s schooling, and we can find practically nothing to criticise at Roundhay. Educationally, socially, pastorally it’s excellent.

  6. Sarah says:

    Hi when will this years top 40 schools be online

  7. hochcast says:

    Interesting reading…I’m just setting about writing an exposé about the appaling state of one school in particular, Bruntcliffe, and the reasons behind it.

    I believe these reasons permeate through many schools both here in Leeds and nationwide. It’s interesting to read the comment above about the head at Roundhay…He is the exception that proves the rule. The problem in MOST schools is sitting in the largest office down the end of a corridor usually. (Modern day?) Headteachers are charisma-free, underhand, jargonese-sputing (‘learners’ and ‘learning spaces’ not pupils and classrooms…that helps whom precisely?), cold, lacking in interpersonal skills and egocentric.

    Read this blog and pass it on please. I want the parents at Bruntcliffe and In Morley in general to read this. I am baring my soul BUT I hope to reveal the problems in Leeds generally.

    Leeds City Council’s dsingenuous Director of Children’s Services and his deputy are the problem. Can anyone justify their ridiculous six figure salaries? Check out the national league tables by local authority and see where Leeds, a well-heeled city, languishes. Richardson and Brennan need to feel the heat They won’t of course!

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