For most parents living in Southwark, secondary school choice is the number one issue – above even other issues like crime and the cost of living.
Where all the secondary schools in an area are good, parents just put the local school as their first choice. But where parents are not satisfied with their local secondary school, and make a different school their first choice, and then their child doesn’t get a place – then they are not happy at all.
This week I published a report showing that this is just what is happening for too many parents in Southwark.
This year more than one third (41%) of parents in Southwark did not get their first choice secondary school. Only 58.7% of parents in Southwark got their first choice secondary school. Parents in other areas are more likely to get their first choice. For example only 4% of parents in York don't get their first choice.
Of the eight secondary schools that serve the children of Camberwell and Peckham, three schools - Kingsdale, the Charter School and Sacred Heart - were oversubscribed with more first preference applications than places available, and five schools – Harris Girls East Dulwich, Walworth Academy, ARK All Saints Academy, St Thomas the Apostle, and Harris Peckham - were undersubscribed with more places available than parents who made the school their first choice.
I even meet people who have lived happily in Southwark for some time but when their children reach secondary school age they feel they have to move out of the area to get a better school for their children.
While some secondary schools in Southwark are doing really well and have the confidence of parents, there is still a long way to go. I keep this issue under the closest possible scrutiny across my constituency, school by school, year by year.
We need to be clear about the reasons why parents are not choosing these five undersubscribed secondary schools. When doing school inspections, Ofsted survey the parents of children who go to the school. But they don't talk to the parents who don't want their children to go there. I want Ofsted to change this.
I am demanding that David Laws, Minister for Education meet me and Dora Dixon-Fyle, Southwark Council’s Cabinet Member for Children’s Services to insist that action be taken to address the concerns of parents who feel they have to avoid their local secondary school.
Results are important – but one of the most important indicators for a school is that parents are giving their local secondary school their vote of confidence by sending their children there.
Until that is happening across the borough of Southwark, the school report card will still read “must do better”.