Parents in many parts of England are finding it harder to get their child into a secondary school they want, most of the country’s towns and counties saw a fall last year in the proportion of pupils getting a place at their first-choice school.

Most authorities – 85 in total (57%) – witnessed a drop in the proportion of 11-year-olds offered their first secondary school preference over the past five years.

The application process sees families list a number of choices, in order of preference.

There have been continuing concerns about a squeeze on school places, caused in part by a rise in the birth rate.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “The massive increase in pupil numbers over the next few years, particularly at secondary age, will only make it harder.

“The government’s own figures show that an extra 750,000 school places will be needed in England by 2025, to meet a 10% rise in pupil population.

“There is a desperate need for long-term planning that spans all sectors.

“Schools are facing a £3bn shortfall in funding by 2019, with 98% set to be worse off at a time when costs are rising and pupil numbers are growing.”

A DfE spokesman said: “Last year almost all parents got an offer at one of their top three preferred schools.

“Nearly 600,000 additional pupil places were created between May 2010 and May 2015, and the government is now pushing ahead with the creation of a further 600,000 new school places as part of its wider £23bn investment in the school estate up to 2021.”

Richard Watts, chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Creating an extra 300,000 primary places over recent years is a demonstrable record that councils are doing everything they can to rise to the challenge of ensuring no child goes without a place.

“However, as children move on to secondary schools, the majority of which are now academies, councils are working with one hand behind their backs to help as many as possible receive a place at their first-choice school.

“If they are to meet the demand for secondary school places, then existing academy schools should be made to expand where required, or councils should be given back the powers to open new maintained schools.”