In the spotlight: Primary school places

"In Oxfordshire we have a strong record of being able to offer the vast majority of families a place at their first-preference primary school. In other words, there are generally places available at the schools local families want their children to attend.

This is mainly an indication of two things: firstly, that the council is doing a decent job of ensuring sufficient school places where people need them, and secondly, that there is a healthy spread of good schools giving families genuine options when applying.

Meeting demand

The number of children starting primary school in Oxfordshire has grown in recent years, and a huge amount of work has gone into creating more school places in those parts of the county where demand is relatively high or growing rapidly.

As a result of recently completed and scheduled school expansion projects, nearly 3,000 primary school places will have been added between 2015 and 2018; in addition, entirely new primary schools are due to open in Bicester, Didcot, Banbury and Barton West.

This work is partly funded by grants from central Government, but also through developer contributions in circumstances where new housing signals the need to increase local school capacity.

Importance of choice

Ensuring there are more than enough school places in a local area does not, of course, guarantee everyone will secure a place at their first-preference school.

The important right of families to seek to exercise choice means that theoretically, a local council could create far more than the total places needed and some popular schools could still be oversubscribed if they were at the limit of how big they could be made.

Above all what families want to see when applying for their child, is that the majority of places are at schools rated Good or better by Ofsted, as this is what empowers them to exercise genuine choice.

Increase in places at schools rated 'Good' or better

Across Oxfordshire the proportion of pupils in Good or Outstanding primary schools rose from 59% in 2012 to 85% in 2015 – in real terms, an increase of 14,600 children.

This is largely down to the efforts of Oxfordshire’s primary schools and their local communities in achieving high standards, but it also reflects the fact that where possible, the council seeks to create new school places by working with Good or Outstanding schools.

Recent Government figures showed that 89 per cent of new primary places created in Oxfordshire between 2010/11 and 2013/14 were at Good or Outstanding schools, compared with 80 per cent nationally.

Ongoing work

We know of course, that not everyone will have received the news they were hoping for today – and if you’re among the small minority that did not receive a first-preference offer, or were unsuccessful in securing a place at one of your preferred schools, none of the above will be of much consolation.

Unfortunately there’s no getting around the mathematics that when a popular school is oversubscribed with first preference applications, it cannot accommodate everyone.We’re continuing to work with our schools to plan for future demand and ensure that, as far as possible, Oxfordshire families can continue to access good schools for their children.

I'd like to wish every child due to start primary school in September the very best of luck as they embark on their school journey."