Almost 50,000 parents were unhappy about the places allocated to their children and appealed against admissions decisions, latest Government figures reveal.
They show dramatic increases in the number of appeals in a three-year period with a massive rise of 58 per cent in the primary sector and 35 per cent in the secondary sector.
Appeals give a clear indication of whether parents are getting what they want for their children.
The Audit Commission said the increases, which cover 1992 to 1995, were greater than might be expected because of a rising school-age population. During that period the number of children had increased by 5.3 per cent in the primary sector and 3 per cent in the secondary sector.
It discovered in a survey of five authorities that around 10 per cent of parents did not get their first choice of school for their children.
In addition, 9 per cent of parents said they did not even express a genuine first preference because they believed their application would not be successful, so did not apply for their first choice for fear of being unsuccessful and ending up with a school they were desperate to avoid.
According to the Audit Commission, nearly one parent in five did not get a place for their child at their genuine first-choice school. The picture was worse in inner London.
It said the current approach to the supply and allocation of school places was leaving a large number of schools with a significant mismatch between pupils and places. It was generating inefficient and educationally ineffective outcomes at some schools and offered limited choice and diversity to some parents.
However, many parents felt a greater sense of influence and control over their child's education.
In a survey of 1,029 parents whose children had recently transferred to secondary school, conducted by the pollsters MORI for the Audit Commission, some 92 per cent felt it was important to be able to express their preference. Almost a quarter wanted their child to attend a denominational school, 14 per cent said they preferred a selective school and 4 per cent preferred a GM secondary school.