Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons.

Southwark News Column - Secondary School Choice


Many children across Southwark have just started secondary school and I wish them all the best for their future.

It is impossible to overstate how important it is that when it comes to secondary school, a child is safe, happy and learning.  They need to be able to develop all their talents and abilities and get the qualifications they need to take them on to their next stage.

And schools is one of the biggest issues parents raise with me when I meet them out and about in my constituency.  Many parents are more than happy with the school their child goes to.  But all too often I meet parents who say, while they were perfectly happy with the local primary school, they are not happy with the local secondary school, they’ve applied to schools further away but did not get in.

So we should all be concerned about what it’s telling us about the local school if the local parents don’t want to send their children there.  There are a number schools for children living in Camberwell and Peckham which are popular with local parents and which are over-subscribed – meaning they have more applications than they have places including Kingsdale, Sacred Heart and the Charter School.  But 6 schools have fewer first choice applications than they have places.  That’s not because there aren’t any children in the area, it’s because the parents are choosing not to send their children there.

It’s no good the school and Ofsted saying it’s a great school and the parents have just “got it wrong”.  If there’s something about the school that is worrying the parents then the school should address that.  The local school needs to command the confidence of the local community. If there are fewer children applying than there are places, they should take that seriously, understand the concerns of parents and put it right.  Filling up your places with children who have made it their second or third choice doesn’t solve the problem.

In some areas the overwhelming majority of parents get their first choice of school.  I Central Bedfordshire for example 99.7% of parents got their first choice of school.

Whereas in Southwark just 59.6% of parents got their child into their first choice of school. This in not just a problem for parents in Southwark but in London as a whole, and particularly inner London.

When Labour was in government we set up the London challenge which did so much to improve schools.  The Government should do something like that again, not wash their hands of parents’ concerns.  And while the education of London’s children is crucial, Mayor Boris Johnson has done nothing about it.  I hope the next Labour mayor will.  And I want Ofsted to take this issue on board when they inspect a school, looking not just at exam results but also at parental preferences.   I’m calling on the Parliamentary Select Committee on Education to conduct an inquiry into why so many children across London don’t get their first choice of school.

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