School leaders’ union the National Association of Headteachers says the anxiety for parents over not securing their preferred school this year will "only be heightened" by fear and uncertainty felt during the coronavirus pandemic.
Department for Education figures show that 88.8% of children starting primary school in Buckinghamshire this September received an offer from their first-choice school – down from 90.4% last year.
It means 673 families missed out on their top pick, as the number of applications to primary schools in the area rose by 1% to 5,981.
The picture in Buckinghamshire reflected that across England, where 90.2% of Reception starters received an offer from their first-choice school, falling from 90.6% last year.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said there is concern around a variation in rates between different areas of the country.
“It is a complex issue because it is associated with high demand for popular schools, but it means many families are left disappointed, and this issue does need to be addressed," he said.
Meanwhile, the proportion of pupils securing a place at their first-choice secondary school in Buckinghamshire fell from 74.7% last year to 74.6% this year.
That was lower the national rate, which increased from 80.9% to 82.2% over the same period.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of NAHT, said: “The anxiety families are feeling, and the disappointment for those not getting their first choice, will only be heightened by the confusion and uncertainty caused by coronavirus.
“It is vital that no child going through the primary admissions process this year should be disadvantaged.
“For those families not getting their first choice of school, the appeals process must be as robust as ever and be made clear to parents.”
The Department for Education announced a temporary relaxing of the rules around school admission appeals at the end of April, meaning they do not have to be held face-to-face during the coronavirus pandemic.
School Standards Minister Nick Gibb said: “The vast majority of parents have again received an offer from one of their top three preferences of primary or secondary school for the next academic year.
“We will be supporting primary schools that have capacity to bring back more children – with reduced class sizes of 15 – to do so if they can before the summer holidays, and we will be working with the sector to bring all children back to school in September."