Research: Population changes reduce pressure on primary places, but not secondary.

Parents currently facing the anxious wait for April 17th’s primary school application results are likely to be unsettled by reports of 2023/2024 being the “toughest year ever” for secondary applications. However, our research suggests such fears may be misplaced.

The easing of pressures on primary schools

We have compared first preference rejection rate changes for primary schools pre and post-pandemic in every local authority. There is a startling conclusion – parents applying for primary school places post-pandemic, including this year, are much more likely to get their first chosen place than parents running the application gauntlet pre-covid.

There is one key reason for this – declining birth rates. The “baby bust” that has been making headlines post-pandemic actually stretches back into the last decade. Every year since 2010 the UK has seen a declining birth rate and 2019, the year in which most current applicants were born, was the nadir of the decade seeing just 712,680. This was 100,290 births less than the high point of 2012!

A look back at birth rates per 1,000 people highlights the issue:

(Note: the population data quoted comes from ONS and United Nations – World Population Prospects report)

With the current cohort of applications coming from children born in 2018 and 2019, schools are likely to be even less subscribed than last year. A good news story for parents looking to edge into oversubscribed schools.

However, there is a second complicating factor – covid population movements. The pandemic saw people prioritising house size over city life and while this trend has slowed it has not yet been reversed. As Rightmove said in June: “(d)emand is still high in many coastal areas” even though “it has slowed from the heady levels seen in parts of 2020 and 2021.”

Despite this we found that out of 150 local authorities, only 8 had higher first preference rejection rates on the two National Offer Days post-covid compared to the pre-covid average.

Below you can see how post-pandemic 1st application rejection rates changed in your local area, as well as birth rates for 2019 vs 2018:

*Note: for post and pre-covid stats we are comparing the averages of 2021/22 and 2022/23 school year applications to applications from 2014/15 through 2019/20 academic year. This is not a guarantee of future demand.

But weren’t secondary schools historically oversubscribed this year?

For secondary schools, the story is very different. The applications for 2023/24 places are predominantly for children born in 2012 and 2013. Barring 2010, 2012 had the highest birth rate per 1k people since 1994. While 2013 dipped to a more normal pace, secondary school places still say demand way about the current cohort of primary school applicants.