Oversubscription is touted as a sign of popularity, but is it?

Janet Downs's picture
I’ve already pointed out the absurdity of counting every mention of a school in parental orders of preference. If a school is listed last then counting it as a positive choice is deceptive.

But there are other factors – number of choices allowed, number of pupils wanting school places and number of easily-accessible schools available – which affect the number of times a school could be mentioned in parents’ preferences.

Parents in parts of London can name up to six schools. In other parts of the country parents are only allowed to name three. So schools in the capital have double the chance of being named as schools elsewhere.

Similarly, there may be thousands of parents after places in London schools most of which could be accessed by public transport. This means that London schools can trawl from a wide, densely-populated area. Again, this makes it more likely that London schools will attract more mentions than those in  sparsely-populated rural areas where only a couple of hundred parents a year are looking for places.

Consider this hypothetical situation:

Much-hyped inner-London academy (MHILA) has100 places. Parents are allowed to name six schools in order of preference. MHILA attracts 1,000 mentions. But only 200 are first choice and some of these are from parents more than10 miles away. The remaining mentions could be anywhere from 2nd to 6th choice.

Rural secondary school (RSS) also has 100 places. There are only 200 pupils requiring places locally – parents are allowed to place three schools in order of preference. RSS receives 150 mentions. 120 of these mentions are first choice.  Most are from parents less than 10 miles away from the school.

So, which of these schools is the most “oversubscribed” based on parental preferences? Is it MHILA with its 1,000 mentions? And RSS didn’t get as many first choice mentions – 120 against MHILA’s 200. But the number of parents making a choice in the rural area is so much smaller than in London.

It can be seen, then, that oversubscription figures can be misleading. So, would it be an accurate use of the figures if MHILA trumpeted in the national press that it was one of the most oversubscribed in England and this was a sign of its popularity?

Perhaps it’s time for schools to stop boasting about “oversubscription” – it’s misleading and sounds too much like bragging. And the Department for Education should stop using “oversubscription” to generate spin about the alleged popularity of its pet schools.

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