THE most and least popular secondary schools across Oxfordshire can today be revealed by the Oxford Mail.

Our figures show the true extent to which parents are competing to get their child into their first choice school while some headteachers struggle to attract new pupils.

They show Oxford’s Cherwell School is the most oversubscribed, with 386 pupils vying for 270 places.

Parents apply to up to three schools in the county. Places at oversubscribed schools are then usually allocated by catchment area. Faith can also be a factor.

The council’s most recent figures show of 6,059 applications, 5,466 got their first place and 5,940 got one of their three choices. This means 593 did not get their first choice and 119 did not get any preferred school.

Of places allocated, 371 were second preferences and 103 were third. Some schools found extra places by creating extra classes, for example.

Some 52 parents chose Oxford Spires Academy – which opened on the site of Oxford School in January – out of 210 available places.

Principal Sue Croft said consultation over the school’s future affected choices, which were made in October. Offer letters were sent out in March. She said: “They didn’t choose because they didn’t know what this was going to be.”

But she said results would improve to attract parents and predicted 150 first choices next year.

Last year, 31 per cent of pupils got five GCSEs including English and maths and Mrs Croft expects this to rise to 80 per cent by 2015. She said: “We’ve made a massive difference. There’s a whole year group missing out on what we’re offering.”

Ian Bellchambers, 43, sent twin sons Ben and Lewis, 13, to the school last year. He said: “We were very committed to our children going to their local, secular school. It’s a school that celebrates the rich diversity of the city.”

Abingdon’s John Mason School has seen demand for places rise from 96 out of 180 in 2008 to 186 out of 180 available places this year.

Its GCSE results went from 45 to 48 and 66 per cent from 2008 to 2010.

Headteacher Di Mashiter said: “Our oversubscription is very encouraging and confirms that our focus on improving learning through inspiring teaching and building resilience and independence in our children is shared by the Abingdon community.”

Julie Fenn, head at Woodstock’s Marlborough School, the second most oversubscribed school, said its 58 per cent GCSE score attracted out-of-catchment children.

She said: “The number of children in the catchment wouldn’t fill the school. Parents know people who sent children here and it’s also the reputation and word of mouth.”

An increase in homes in Woodstock put an increasing demand on places, she said.

David Wilson, head at Faringdon Community College, where 216 pupils went for 200 places, said 2,000 planned homes for Didcot would impact on places.

Youngsters from 23 county primary schools bid for places but only nine are in its catchment, he said.

He added about 220 places would be found this year.

Melinda Tilley, cabinet member for schools improvement, said boosting exam results was key.

Oxford was in the bottom 20 out of more than 300 council areas in England in 2010, with 45 per cent of pupils getting the key GCSE score.

Mrs Tilley said while extra places could help, demand was also driven by what a school offered, such as Faringdon’s specialist engineering status. She said: “I’m not going to say I don’t believe in sharp elbowed parents because I do.”

Pledging support from expert council staff, she said: “It’s all about improving standards everywhere.

“We need to make sure every school is getting an outstanding [rating by Ofsted] and every parent has a proper choice.”