The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said a record rate of overcrowded schools nationally is being driven by increased demand for secondary places, compounded by "perceptions linked to Ofsted reports".
Department for Education data shows that five secondary schools in Central Bedfordshire were at or above full capacity as of May 1 last year.
The figures suggest that 3,201 pupils in the area were affected by overcrowded schools last year – among around 880,000nationwide.
A Central Beds Council spokesperson said: “We are committed to ensuring that pupils have access to a quality education - 99 per cent of pupils who applied for a place at secondary school, and 98 per cent of pupils who applied for a place at an upper school from September 2022 were offered their first choice.
“Central Bedfordshire is an area of growth, and we continue to work with schools and provide additional places where they are needed.
"Our Schools for the Future programme aims to ensure we have the right schools, in the right places, delivering the best education.”
A school is at or in excess of capacity when the number of pupils enrolled is greater than or equal to its number of places.
Across England, 22 per cent of secondary schools reached this threshold last year – up from 17 per cent in 2018-19, and the highest proportion in a decade.
The ASCL said a large contingent of children are moving into secondary education, and though local authorities are experienced at forecasting demand, it is not an exact science.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the organisation, added: “The increasing demand for secondary places is complicated by perceptions linked to Ofsted reports with higher-rated schools often heavily oversubscribed and significant spare capacity at lower-rated schools.
“It drives a vicious cycle with improvement harder to secure in schools which face the greatest challenges.
"The current approach needs a rethink so that it is more supportive and less punitive, and so that every family has access to a good local school place.”
The Education Policy Institute said overcrowding increases the average class size – placing additional demands on teachers – and has implications for admissions.
Despite the increase in overcrowded secondary schools, just 17 per cent of English primaries were at or over capacity last year – the lowest rate since records began in 2009-10.
This included five in Central Bedfordshire – down from 14 in 2018-19.
A DfE spokeswoman said: “The vast majority of pupils will be offered a place at one of their preferred schools this coming year. Pupils are also now more likely to have a place at a good school now – with 87 per cent of schools rated good or outstanding now compared to 68 per cent in 2010.”
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