Report Overview

This report by Anne West, Audrey Hind and Philip Noden provides key findings from a two part research project funded by the Sutton Trust and the LSE focusing on secondary school admissions in England. The research analyses secondary schools’ admissions criteria and practices in England in 2012/13 and illustrative examples of how some local authorities and schools use pupil banding as part of the Year 7 admissions process.

The report provides a brief overview of the historical and policy context relating to secondary school admissions. The authors examined oversubscription criteria used by 3,001 publicly-funded secondary schools and academies in England and identified the extent to which different admissions criteria were used, including random ballots and ability banding.

Key Findings
  • The growth in the number of sponsored academies has not led to a corresponding increase in the use of selective oversubscription criteria. While 15 per cent of sponsored academies used partial selection by aptitude in 2008, this had fallen to 10 per cent in 2012. It is however too early to draw conclusions about the effect of converter academy status on oversubscription criteria.
  • Distance and sibling criteria remain the predominant oversubscription criteria for non-selective state schools. However, the number of schools using banding increased from 95 in 2008 to 121 in 2012. Random ballots were used as a main ranking criterion by 42 schools in 2012. These oversubscription criteria are often seen as means of creating balanced school intakes and were used by 5 per cent of comprehensive schools. These criteria were popular among academies (8%) and particularly sponsored academies or free schools (17%).
  • There has been a slight increase in the number of schools that use partial selection by aptitude (from 133 schools (5%) to 155 schools (6%) between 2008 and 2012).
  • A minority of schools with a religious character do not use religious oversubscription criteria although most do use measures of religious adherence for admission.
  • Grammar schools use a similar range of oversubscription criteria to non-selective schools although of course applicants must meet their initial entrance requirements (including tests of ability).
  1. More schools, particularly in urban areas, should take the opportunity where they are responsible for their own admissions to introduce random allocation (ballots) or banding to ensure that a wider mix of pupils has access to the most academically successful comprehensives. Ballots can ensure that a wide mix of pupils have the possibility of attending a school, and banding can help to secure school intakes reflecting a wide range of ability.
  2. The most effective use of banding is when cooperative agreement can be reached between schools in an area. Local co-ordination could be achieved through a local admissions forum or brokered through the local authority. Groups of schools should be encouraged to develop a shared approach to admissions across an area.
  3. Schools that wish to achieve a comprehensive intake should use banding, or random allocation, in conjunction with a catchment area, as these admissions policies can help schools to achieve an intake reflecting a wide ability range. One way of using random allocation, while making sure that those who live very close to schools are not unduly disadvantaged, could be to introduce both ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ catchment areas. Using either method in isolation may, however, be more effective than using both random allocation and banding in combination.
  4. Where banding is used, a common test should be developed for all schools in an area so that pupils don’t have to sit multiple tests.
  5. The Government should find ways – working with community groups, consumer agencies and businesses that are successful in working class communities – to make it easier for all parents to access as rich a range of information to facilitate informed choice-making over their children’s education.
  6. It is particularly important that parents are aware not just of the school choices available, but of their rights to free transport to a choice of three schools within six miles of their home (or up to 15 miles for faith schools) if their child is eligible for free school meals.