Third of Islington kids miss out on first choice secondary school

NEARLY a third of pupils in Islington have been denied a place at their first-choice secondary school for September.

Almost 500 of the 1,501 applicants discovered they had missed out on their first preference when they received a letter in the post on March 1.

The most popular of Islington’s 10 secondary schools were the newly-rebuilt Highbury Grove School, in Highbury Grove, Highbury, and the controversial St Mary Magdalene Academy, in Liverpool Road, Holloway – which was opposed by teaching unions when it opened in 2007 because they disliked the idea of schools being taken out of the local authority’s control.

But with 258 pupils applying for 180 places, the Church of England school has got a big thumbs-up from parents.

The news is a boost for Highbury Grove, which – after struggling to fill spaces in recent years – had 277 applications for 210 spots.

Associate headteacher Henry Jones said: “I think the popularity is down to a few things. At our Ofsted report last May we were rated ‘outstanding’, we have recently moved into a new building, but the main thing is the school’s curriculum.”

He added: “Obviously there are going to be some parents who will be disappointed. I understand a number of parents have already lodged appeals.”

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Commenting on the popularity of St Mary Magdalene Academy, Ken Muller, assistant secretary of the Islington branch of the National Union of Teachers, said: “I don’t think academies are any better or worse than other schools.

“They’re perceived as the better schools, therefore they attract parents.

“I don’t think a school’s popularity reflects the quality of education provided. It is affected by rumour and exam results, which tend to reflect the intake and not necessarily the job the school is doing.”

Highbury Grove and St Mary Magdalene were the only schools where applications outnumbered places – with many Islington children still snubbing the borough’s secondaries.

Thirty-seven per cent opted for schools in other local authorities, making up a large proportion of those who did not get their first choice.

The least popular school in Islington was Mount Carmel RC Technology College for Girls, in Holland Walk, Archway, which had only 49 applications for 140 places.”

Parent-of-two Nicola Baird, of Prah Road, Finsbury Park, who is a governor at Highbury Fields School, in Highbury Hill, Highbury, said: “I think it must be very upsetting for the families not to get their first choice, but Islington schools will do even better when parents start using their local school that their child can walk to, and then start getting involved in the school.”

Islington Council and the Pan London Admissions Board, which process the applications, insisted the fact that 90 per cent got their first, second or third choice showed the system was working well.

Councillor Richard Watts (Labour), Islington Council’s executive member for children and young people, said: “Nine out of 10 Islington parents got one of their top three choices. The council is working with parents who did not get their first few choices, but the quality of our secondary schools is such that parents can be sure their child will get a good education at whatever Islington school they attend.”

Councillor Watts also highlighted the fact that most of the borough’s secondary school places had been filled. He said: “This is a dramatic shift from the position a few years ago. It is a massive vote of confidence in our secondary schools.”

Chris Kiernan, chairman of the PLAB, said: “It is important to emphasise that, however proficient the admission system is – and our arrangements in London are about as efficient and fair as it is possible to have – it cannot create additional places at the most popular schools.”