Report Overview

This report – a follow up to the Trust’s October 2004 study – finds that pupils on free school meals are underrepresented at the top 200 comprehensives compared to both local and national averages. It finds that schools which are responsible for their own admissions are less representative of their neighbourhoods than those under local authority control, but the latter are found in relatively affluent areas. It concludes that a more robust and rigorously enforced admissions Code of Practice is urgently needed.

Key Findings

  • In October 2005 the Sutton Trust released a survey looking at the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM) at the top 200 state schools compared to both national averages and the postcode sectors in which the schools are sited. This found that the overall rate of FSM eligibility at these schools was 3%, compared to 12.3% in their local areas and 14.3% nationally. The top 200 included almost all the remaining grammar schools (161) and only 39 comprehensives, so it was decided to look separately at the top 200 comprehensives (6% of schools).
  • Social selection is evident in top comprehensive schools: the overall proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals at the 200 highest performing comprehensives is 5.6%, compared to 11.5% of children in the postcode sectors of the schools, and 14.3% in secondary schools nationally.
  • Comprehensive schools which act as their own admissions authorities are more likely to feature in the top 200 than those which do not, accounting for 31% of state secondary schools, but 70% of the top 200. These schools are unrepresentative of their local areas, with 5.8% of pupils eligible for FSM, compared to 13.7% in their postcode sectors – which is close to the national average of 14.3%.
  • The 61 local authority controlled schools in the top 200 are generally found in affluent areas, with FSM rates of 5.9%, which is well below the national average. These schools are representative of their neighbourhoods, with a proportion of pupils on FSM of 5.0% – only one percentage point lower than the areas in which they are located.
  • Faith schools account for 18% of all secondary schools, but 42% of the top 200 comprehensives, including 59% of the schools which act as their own admissions authorities. At 6% they have approximately the same proportion of pupils on FSM as non-faith schools within the sample, but the gap between school and area rates is much higher for faith schools – 9 percentage points, compared to 3 percentage points for non-faith schools.