Three children were fighting for every two places to go to Oxford’s Cherwell School from September, new figures show.
The school in Marston Ferry Road, Oxford, is once again the county’s most popular secondary, with 403 children listing it as their first choice.
They were competing for 270 spots, a ratio of 1.5 children for every place. That was an increase on last year, when 386 children listed it as their first choice, despite its 2011 GCSE results going down compared to the previous year.
Cherwell was one of eight secondaries that were over-subscribed, figures from Oxfordshire County Council show. The other seven were: The Cooper School with 267 first choice applications for 220 places; Bartholomew School with 187 for 170 places; John Mason, 193 for 180 places; Langtree, 125 for 112 places; Matthew Arnold, 197 for 174 places; The Marlborough School, 193 for 180 places and The Warriner School, 257 for 228 places.
Cherwell headteacher Paul James said: “The number of first choice preferences varies slightly year on year so I wouldn’t like to read too much into the increase – although it is encouraging that we continue to have such support.”
He said of the school’s new academy status: “We have no evidence that it has had any impact as regards admissions.”
It appears the potential for many secondaries to leave local education authority control and become standalone academies was not influencing parents’ picks.
Only two schools that were academies or were consulting on one saw a small rise in demand this year. Four saw a slight drop while three stayed the same.
King Alfred’s Academy in Wantage – which became an academy last summer – saw 297 first choices for 310 places.
Headteacher Simon Spiers said an Ofsted inspection last year boosted its rating from good to outstanding.
He said: “If the Ofsted report was poor and they walked around and didn’t like the ethos, whether we were an academy wouldn’t figure.”
Oxford Spires Academy saw a 36 per cent rise in parents wanting to send children there, with 71 first picks.
Sandra Poyser has sent two of her children, Ryan, 18, and Grace, 14, to the school. She has been a resource manager there for 11 years and said it had improved significantly, with her son Thomas due to start there in September.
She said: “Ryan hadn’t done well at all. That is when the school started to fail and go quite bad. But it is a lot more structured now than it used to be.”
The ratio of pupils who won places at their first choice secondary schools in the county rose slightly this year, from 90.2 per cent to 91.5 per cent.
Melinda Tilley, Oxfordshire County Council cabinet member for schools improvement, said: “The only reason parents want their children to go to a school is if they are good or outstanding.”
National Union of Teachers assistant county secretary Gawain Little said: “Parents want a decent, local school. I’m not convinced academy status had an impact.”
We asked Sandra Poyser for her five reasons why Spires has improved: Staff attitude to pupils: “You are spoken to like a grown up and there are more punishments in place. The kids just seem to want to do better. There are nowhere near as many pupils getting excluded.”
The house system: “The kids are working so hard, it brings them together but it doesn’t segregate them.”
More homework: “The students really want to do it, they have a real sense of worth.”
New uniform: “It is a lot more strict now. The boys have to wear shoes that can be polished, they have to wear a tie, there are no leggings.
“We thought they would kick off about the new uniform but they are fine with it. They seem proud of it.”
Extra-curricular activities: “There is an awful lot of students involved in a lot of activities like homework clubs. Children from the feeder primary schools come up for things like science and maths masterclasses. That is why Thomas felt so settled here.”