he proportion of students getting places in their first-choice high school has declined, the figures show.
Almost a fifth of children missed their first choice of secondary school, reaching more than two in five pupils in parts of England according to data from the Department of Education (DfE).
It comes as the number of applications to secondary schools in England rose 0.8% to just over 605,200.
Figures show that 81.1% of children starting high school in September received an offer from their top school, up from 82.2% last year.
Slough had the lowest proportion of families getting their first choice at just 56.1%, followed by Hammersmith and Fulham (57.3%) and Richmond upon Thames (59.8%) in London.
The DfE said that figure would have been affected by the delay in selective school testing due to the pandemic.
In some local authorities – including Slough – parents could name selective schools on the application form when their child may not have reached the level required for an offer.
Statistics show that the proportion of children who complete their preferred primary school has increased from 90.2% in 2020 to 91.8% this year.
The number of primary school enrollments in England fell 5.1% to around 580,700.
The drop in the number of births meant that a drop in the number of applications was expected, but the DfE said several local authorities had indicated that a larger than usual number of applications were submitted late.
These late requests will not be included in these figures but will be found a school place to start the reception year in September 2021.
The DfE added that there could be an increase in the number of parents and opting for homeschooling due to the pandemic, while a reduction in migration, due to pandemic travel controls, may to have contributed to the fall.
Geoff Barton, secretary general of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: âMost students earn places in their prime schools, but a significant number, especially at the high school level, do not, and this will inevitably be very disappointing for the families concerned.
âThe main reason this is happening is the competition that exists for places in schools that are rated as good or exceptional by Ofsted.
âThese schools are often over-subscribed and some families are therefore missing out on their first choice.
The current system is not working well enough for the schools facing the greatest challenge and the communities they serve
âThe solution is for the government to give more support to struggling schools and ensure that every family has access to a good place in a school.
âUnfortunately, the current system is not working well enough for the schools that face the greatest challenge and the communities they serve. “
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the school leaders union NAHT, said: âUntil the government sorts out its act and comes up with a national strategy to ensure there are enough places in school for every child in England the anxious annual wait of families will always be a problem.
âFor too many people there will be a huge disappointment. In some parts of the country, this will mean children will have to travel long distances to attend high school or be separated from their peers.
âThe government’s own figures show that an additional 418,000 secondary education places will be needed in England by 2027, to meet the 14.7% increase in the school population.
âThere is a desperate need for long-term planning that covers all sectors. “
Education Standards Minister Nick Gibb said: âFor the fourth year in a row, over 90% of children have been offered a place in either their first choice of primary school or one of their top three. high school choice, which I know is a huge sum for families. .
“Children and youth are now much more likely to be in a good or a great school than they were 10 years ago, so parents across the country can be confident that their child will get the high quality education it deserves. “