Page last updated at 23:07 GMT, Sunday, 11 April 2010 00:07 UK

England's best comprehensive schools 'exclusive'

By Hannah Richardson
BBC News education reporter

There are claims of "social segregation" in the state school system

England's top comprehensives are more socially exclusive than the remaining grammar schools, a report says.

The Sutton Trust report suggests the top 164 comprehensive schools have less than half the proportion of poor pupils in their local areas.

Grammars were slightly more inclusive with 13.5% of poor pupils, as opposed to 20% in their catchment areas.

This was because popular schools, many of which control their own admissions, still select by the back door, it said.

The report also revealed some of the lengths parents go to to get their child in to the desired secondary school.

'Intense competition'

These included renting or buying a property close to a good school, or encouraging their children to underperform in fair banding tests, which seek to allocate a fair spread of different ability pupils to schools.

The report for the educational charity said: "There tends to be more intense competition in the upper bands of popular schools than in lower bands where almost all the pupils may be admitted.

"It does not take long for parents to work this out and there are suspicions that some parents are telling their children to do badly in the admissions tests, which must be very confusing for children."

The report focused on the extreme end of the spectrum - the 100 most socially selective comprehensive schools in England.

In these schools it found 8.6% of the school's intake were from poor homes, despite being situated in areas where 20% of children were income deprived.

There is still wriggle room for parents and schools
Professor Alan Smithers
Report author

But at schools with the least advantaged intake the rate was 39% - in areas where 30% of children were from income deprived areas.

In the 164 most socially selective comprehensives, only 9.2% were from poor backgrounds compared with 13.5% for the 164 remaining grammar schools, which are wholly selective on the basis of ability.

These drew from areas where 20% were from poorer families.

However, the authors suggested that state schools were highly socially segregated overall.

The most deprived comprehensive in the country has 16 times as many poor pupils as the least deprived.

Good reputations

Many of the most exclusive schools in the study controlled their own admissions, and retained an element of selection on the basis of academic results or faith, the report said.

It added that social variation between schools was, in part, a consequence of allowing parents to choose schools.

Report author Professor Alan Smithers said: "Parents have a right to express a preference.

"Within an area some schools develop a reputation as good schools and others as less good.

"So the parents naturally seek out what they understand to be a good school and because of that the school gets many more applications than there are places."


This meant schools with more applicants than they have room for had to select, he said.

This could be by giving places to those with a religious affiliation or on the basis of proximity to a school - the method most comprehensives used.

Although schools now had to follow an admissions code, first introduced in 2002, this had only been binding since 2008, he said.

"The government has been filling the gaps through various additions and now we have something that is very long and complicated, yet there is still wriggle room for parents and schools," Prof Smithers said.

However, he acknowledged that many parents simply chose the school that was closest to them.

Sutton Trust founder Sir Peter Lampl said politicians should consider introducing ballots to decide who gets a place in an oversubscribed school.

"Ballots offer the same chances to all children irrespective of their background," he added.

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