Ballots are the fairest way to allocate oversubscribed school places.

Comprehensive schools in England are highly socially segregated and the main reason for this is their admissions and selection processes rather than their location, according to a new report published today by the Sutton Trust. It also finds that the country’s leading comprehensive schools are more socially exclusive than the remaining grammar schools.

The report – Worlds Apart – social variation among schools – has been produced by Alan Smithers and Pamela Robinson, from the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham. The study investigates social exclusivity in secondary schools using IDACI (Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index), developed by the Department of Communities and Local Government. This method is much more sophisticated than that used in previous comparisons which have relied on the proportions of children in receipt of free school meals.

The researchers found that the country’s top 164 comprehensive schools took only 9.2% of children from income deprived homes although they drew pupils from areas where about 20% were income deprived. The 164 remaining grammar schools, also drawing their pupils from areas where 20% were income deprived, were found to be more inclusive, admitting 13.5% of children from poor homes.

Of the 100 most socially selective schools in the country, 91 were comprehensives, eight were grammars and there was one secondary modern.

The 100 comprehensive schools with the least advantaged intakes seem to be taking more than their fair share of disadvantaged students. Nearly 40% of children in these schools were from deprived areas although the schools were situated in localities where 30% of children came from deprived homes.

The researchers found that socially selective schools tended to be larger, had sixth forms, were voluntary aided or foundation schools in charge of their own admissions, were faith schools and had adopted academic rather than practical specialisms.

The researchers say that despite the Government’s Admissions Code being mandatory and painstakingly put together, “there is still wriggle room for schools that want to ensure a favourable intake to enable them to show up well in league tables”.

In a challenge to the main political parties in the run up to a General Election, the report calls for a fairer and less complicated admissions system to allocate places in schools with more applicants than places. It says: “Our view is that the principal means should be by ballot. It would be fair and lead to a more equitable education system … It could be used in conjunction with other criteria, for example ability, faith or location, but ultimately places should be settled by parental preferences with ballots where necessary. Do you agree?”

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust, writes in a foreword to the report: “Deployed alongside other selection criteria, ballots are the fairest way of deciding school places in over-subscribed schools. There has to be some way of choosing which pupils are admitted, and ballots offer the same chances to all children irrespective of their background.”

Media enquiries

If you're a journalist with a question about our work, get in touch with Hilary or Ruby. If it's out of office hours, you can call or text 07917 462 164.

E: [email protected] T: 020 7802 1660

Keep up to date with the latest news