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Should there be more than three application choices for parents in Suffolk?

PUBLISHED: 09:31 03 November 2017 | UPDATED: 09:32 03 November 2017

A new study suggests that parents may have incentives under the current system to list schools that are not really their preferred options, to avoid being allocated to a school that simply has spare places. Picture: DAVID DAVIES

A new study suggests that parents may have incentives under the current system to list schools that are not really their preferred options, to avoid being allocated to a school that simply has spare places. Picture: DAVID DAVIES

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More families could get one of their preferred secondary schools if they were able to list more choices when applying for places, research has found.

But Suffolk and Essex county councils do not have plans in place to extend the number of options.

A study suggests parents who can only give a small number of options are more likely to play it “safe” and pick schools they think they have the best chance of gaining a spot at. Those who are able to list more schools are likely to be more ambitious.

Under England’s current school admissions system, parents are typically asked to list between three and six secondary schools they would like to attend, in order of preference. Children are then allocated a school based on available places and admissions criteria, in the order of choices.

The study, by researchers at the universities of Bristol and Cambridge, suggests parents may have incentives to list schools that are not really their preferred options to avoid being allocated a school that just has spare places.

It says: “When parents make multiple choices, their first choice tends to be more ambitious. Parents who make more choices tend to end up with an offer from a higher performing school. Equally, people make more cautious choices when constrained to three options.

“Authorities could improve the percentage of (preferred allocations) by making more choices on the application form. This would be relatively costless and easily reduce the need for a strategic or ‘safe’ school choice.”

In Suffolk, parents are given three choices for primary and secondary school applications.

A Suffolk County Council spokesman said: “It is always advised that parents include a second and third choice.

“There are no plans at present to change from three choices.”

Last year, the authority received 7,171 applications. More than 93pc received first-preference offers and 98pc received a top-three offer.

Nationally, 83.5pc of pupils got their first choice, and 94.6pc got one of their top three.

Ray Gooding, education cabinet member at Essex County Council said: “Parents are always encouraged to make use of all of the preferences available to them (six for secondary and four for primary).”

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