Parents’ hopes and fears as they eye slots in national schools

Oscar Mwangi of Rosepark Academy in Molo, Nakuru county celebrate with teachers and parents at the school on April 17, 2021, after scoring 404 marks in the KCPE Examination. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

The scramble for Form One places has started in earnest with parents eyeing prime slots in national schools weeks before the official selection process begins.

More slots will be up for grabs in the coveted national schools, whose capacity is 30,000 after fewer candidates scored 400 marks and above–which automatically guarantees them a slot.

With only 8,091 candidates scoring over 400 marks, it means that 22,000 slots will be available for candidates who scored below 399 marks. According to the Kenya National Examinations Council data, 282,090 candidates scored between 300 and 399 marks.

Education Cabinet Secretary Prof George Magoha said the selection exercise will be done on May 28.

“To ensure all candidates are placed in schools of their choice, based on performance and available vacancies, the Ministry of Education will employ a water-tight system that will be credible and of high integrity,” said Prof Magoha.

But parents who spoke to The Standard yesterday said they were worried their children may not join their preferred schools.

“Experience shows that children who score better grades do not get schools of their choices. This is prompting parents to start the search early,” said a parent in Nairobi.

Sheila Muthui (right-in black) and Mercy Wanjiru both from High Hope Junior School in Uthiru, Nairobi are celebrated by teachers, friends and colleagues after scoring 405 and 400 marks respectively in KCPE whose results were released last Thursday. [File, Standard]


National Parents Association chairman Nicholas Maiyo said parents are worried about the selection process.

“Many parents have been telling me their expectations may not be met because the number of children who scored 400 marks and above dropped,” said Mr Maiyo.

He said the tradition has been that only candidates who attain 400 marks and above are guaranteed national school slots.

“Parents are requesting if the ministry can reduce the mark to about 370 so that more children can get spaces in the national schools.”

He said parents are also pleading that their children join the dream schools they chose.

The Standard established that the Form One selection formula used in previous years will still be in force. The formula considers merit, candidates’ choices and affirmative action, among other parameters.

Sources at the Ministry of Education hinted that all eligible candidates stand a fair chance of being enrolled in any of the 103 national schools.

It also emerged that enrolment to national schools will not be pegged on high exam scores only. Factors such as regional balance will determine placement. This means that candidates who scored lower marks but emerged top performers in their sub-counties may land slots in the coveted schools.


Parents expressed fears that many deserving students who may have done well but posted low grades under difficult circumstances may be locked out.

The decision by the ministry to conduct only one placement exercise has also demoralised parents whose children scored below 350 marks. Previously, parents relied on a second selection to pick better schools after assessing the placement of their children in the first selection.

There are also 35 special needs education (SNE) secondary schools with a capacity of about 1,500 slots, according to ministry data. These are boarding institutions that cater for students with special education needs. Their catchment is national and selection is done based on merit, candidate’s choice and type of impairment.

Pre-selection for the SNES, Starehe Boys and Starehe Girls, Moi Forces Academy (Nairobi and Lanet), Utumishi Academy and Moi Tea Girls is done separately.

The huge battle, however, will be among the 8,091 candidates for prime slots in the 18 ‘traditional’ national schools.

These are Starehe Boys, Starehe Girls, Alliance Boys, Alliance Girls, Lenana School, Kenya High, Maryhill Girls, Loreto Limuru, Limuru Girls, Mang’u High, Maseno School, Nairobi School, Moi Forces Academy, Moi Forces Lanet, Nakuru Girls, Utumishi Academy, Moi Girls Eldoret and Nakuru Boys.


Parents whose children miss out on national schools will resort to the 531 extra-county schools that have a capacity of 123,399 learners. The selection of candidates to these schools is based on a 20:40:40 ratio, to be shared across the host sub-county, the host county and other counties, respectively.

Other children will be admitted to 1,031 county schools–which include some day schools in cities and major urban centres–that have the capacity for 142,358 learners. Candidates had the choice of three schools at this level. Available slots are shared out on a 20:80 ratio, spread across the host sub-county and the other sub-counties.

Most candidates, however, will be enrolled in the 7,325 sub-county schools that have the capacity for 685,590 students.

The government is currently implementing a new directive that requires students in day secondary schools to enrol in institutions nearest to their homes to ease transport challenges.

“Kindly advise all schools presenting candidates for KCPE that the choice of day schools will be based on the parents/ guardians area of residence,” reads a circular dated February 11.


Education sector players say the development is a deliberate move by the government to kick-start the process of adopting day secondary schools in line with proposals under the new 2-6-3-3-3 education system.

Under the new arrangement, all secondary students will be day scholars. Schools that will offer pathways and SNES will be some of the few institutions with boarding facilities. The rest of the schools will have day scholars commuting within a five-kilometre radius.

Members of the Competency-Based Curriculum task force that made the recommendations said this will be the start of major revisions to the secondary schools' admission criteria.