Schools can find ways round admissions rules, suggest researchers
Some state schools in England are using underhand tactics to attract the most desirable pupils, says a report.
It describes how one school using distance from it as an admissions criterion actually took measurements from a building half a mile away.
The Research and Information on State Education report says another school used its own unauthorised rules to rank children on its waiting list.
The government said "covert selection" was banned under its admissions code.
The report for the Research and Information on State Education suggests that some schools are trying to manipulate their intake of pupils.
For example, one undersubscribed school was reported to have contacted parents after offer day to invite them to meet the head teacher in the hope of persuading them to reject the offer they had received and instead take up a place at the undersubscribed school.
Report author Philip Noden said: "There is a world of suspicion out there. People at times are doubtful about the motives of admissions authorities."
He added: "There still clearly are some schools that are breaking the schools admissions code, but there are also many ways in which, even without breaking the code, they can generate a lot of uncertainty."
He said problems could increase as more schools controlling their own admissions were created.
Ministers hoped a stricter admissions code, which came into force in February, would reduce unfairness, but the study of five local authorities found that the code did not always stop schools seeking an advantage.
It added that it was not difficult to find schools that fell foul of the code. This could be partly accidental, as the admissions code is complex, it said.
The researchers call for a change to the admissions rules, with local authorities taking greater control over the administration of admissions.
There should also be co-ordinated schemes for arranging oversubscription criteria, within local areas, it said.
Speaking at a conference on admissions, England's chief adjudicator for schools, Dr Ian Craig, said lawyers were cashing in on the increasingly complex school admissions code.
Dr Craig said he expected to see more challenges against school admissions rules in the future as parents involved lawyers in the process more often.
A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "We've outlawed covert selection in the mandatory code and all state schools, including Academies, have to comply - no ifs or buts.
"The independent Schools Adjudicator has tough powers to proactively investigate and overturn unfair admission policies.
"His annual report last month concluded that the system is now much fairer and there were fewer objections about admissions - but it made clear he had no hesitation to step in and act where necessary."