The government needs to review the school admissions system because it is widening the gap between rich and poor, according to a thinktank.
The Education Policy institute (EPI) has carried out research which shows that appeals and waiting list procedures are “reinforcing inequalities in education” with deprived families and those from some ethnic minority backgrounds less likely to get into their preferred schools.
While one in seven families successfully appealed or used waiting lists to secure their top choice of school, the research found that success in this “varies considerably” by family background, ethnicity and pupil attainment at primary school.
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EPI senior researcher Emily Hunt said: “If you are a family from the very poorest neighbourhood, then your odds of securing your top choice of school by appealing or using waiting lists is half that of a family from the most affluent neighbourhood.
School admissions 'inequality'
“This is particularly concerning as parents use these routes to access schools with higher Ofsted ratings, and these schools also have socially advantaged intakes.
“The government should deliver on its recent promise to review the schools admissions system, or risk damaging social mobility."
The research, which draws on newly available parental preferences data, shows that one in six families did not receive their first-choice school place.
Among those that used the appeals and waiting lists procedures, only one in 10 black students and 12 per cent of Asian pupils received their first choice, compared with 21 per cent of white British pupils and 17 per cent of Chinese pupils.
The research also shows that pupils with low attainment at the end of primary school were less likely to access their first choice of secondary school after using these routes than those with high attainment (15 per cent versus 23 per cent).
Out of 545,000 total school offers in 2016-17 in England, only around 459,000 (84 per cent) were for a first choice school, according to the research.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the research showed there was often “a scramble” for places in schools rated as "good" and "outstanding".
“An essential starting point is to scrap the current Ofsted system of rating schools as ‘inadequate’ and ‘requires improvement’, as these labels stigmatise them and make it harder to attract teachers, leaders and pupils," he said.
"We need a system which is built upon the principle of providing the very best support to these schools and it must be backed up with sufficient funding.”
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT heads' union, said powers and resources to provide sufficient school places had been removed from local authorities.
He said: “In an increasingly fragmented school system, we lack a coordinated approach to place-planning. Instead, it’s haphazard; decisions are being made in isolation and new schools and new school places are not always being commissioned in the areas they are most needed.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are on track to deliver a million new school places this decade, giving more parents access to a good school place. In 2018, 97.7 per cent of families received an offer of a place at one of their top three preferred primary schools and 93.8 per cent of families received an offer of a place at one of their top three preferred secondary schools.”