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Selective Comprehensives

The social composition of top comprehensive schools

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This study looks at publicly available data on the proportion of pupils eligible and claiming for free school meals (FSM) in the top 500 comprehensive state schools and at how representative they are of their localities and of their school type. We have looked at the top 500 when measured by five good GCSEs including English and Maths and at the top 500 measured according to success in the relatively new English Baccalaureate (EBacc) league table measure.


• We find that the overall rate of FSM uptake at the top 500 comprehensives measured on the traditional five good GCSE scale is just below half the national average, 7.6% compared to 16.5%, in almost 3,000 state secondary schools. Only 49 of the top 500 schools have free school meal rates higher than the national average.

•  95% of the top 500 comprehensives take fewer pupils on free school meals than the total proportion in their local areas, including almost two thirds (64%) which are unrepresentative of their local authority area with gaps of five or more percentage points.

• Schools controlling their own admissions policies are over-represented in the top 500. 75% of the top 500 comprehensives are their own admissions authorities, compared to 61% of the same types of school nationally. Voluntary-aided schools, making up 24% of the top 500, and converter academies, making up 37%, are the most over-represented.

• Categorising schools in the top 500 list by their religious nature or whether or not they are single-sex, shows again that they are not representative of these types of school nationally. Schools in this group are more likely to have a religious character: faith schools account for 19% nationally, but make up 33% of the top 500. The top 500 are also less likely to be co-educational: single-sex schools account for 11% of our sample nationally but make up 16% of the top 500.

•  The average FSM rate at the top 500 schools when ranked by the EBacc measure is even more socially exclusive than the top 500 ranked by the 5A*-C including English and mathematics. Only an average of 7.2% of pupils at these top 500 schools receive free school meals, compared to 7.6% of pupils in schools using the 5A*-C, including English and maths measure, and the 16.5% national average.