580,800 applications were received for a place at primary school in 2021, a 5.1% decrease on 2020.
This contrasts to a 0.5% increase in applications between 2019 and 2020.
There are likely to be a number of reasons behind this drop in applications:
- There was a reduction in births in England from late 2016 onwards. The ages applying to start school in September 2021 were born between September 2016 and August 2017.
- A number of local authorities advised during the collection process that a larger than usual number of applications were submitted late. The application deadline was during the winter pandemic period and therefore extra pressures on parents and carers may have impacted on them submitting their application on time.
- These late applications will not be included in these figures, which cover on-time applications only. They will however be made an offer of a school place later in the offer process.
- It is possible that reactions to the pandemic have also reduced the number of applicants for a primary school place. For example there might be an increase in the number of parents and carers opting to home school.
- Reduction in migration, particularly because of the pandemic travel controls, may also have contributed to the reduction.
The proportion of primary applicants receiving an offer of their first choice school has increased to 91.8% - up from 90.2% in 2020. The data suggests that, in general, where local authorities have had drops in applications, this has enabled them to make a higher proportion of first preference offers.
The proportion of applicants who received an offer of any of their preferred primary schools also increased, to 98.4% in 2021 (from 97.8%).
A timeseries of key results from 2014 are provided in the following table.
Primary geographical variation
At local authority level the three highest first preference rates were achieved in 2021 by:
- Redcar and Cleveland (98.5%)
- Hartlepool (98.5%)
- Northumberland (98.4%)
Redcar and Cleveland also had the highest first preference rate in 2020, and Northumberland has been in the top three since 2019.
As in previous years, the lowest first preference rates at primary level are all in London:
- Kensington and Chelsea (66.6%)
- Camden (77.8%)
- Islington (78.5%)
Kensington and Chelsea has been in the bottom three since 2015.
The only non-London local authority in the bottom ten was:
The higher number of practical options available to London applicants and ability to name six preferences may encourage parents and carers to make more speculative choices for their top preferences.
As expected, there is much less variation in the proportions receiving any preferred offer compared to those for receiving a first preference.
Primary cross local authority offers
An applicant can apply to their local authority for any school, including those situated in another local authority.
In 2021 96.9% of primary offers made were of schools inside the home authority. This figure has been stable for the past few years.