Research by Professor Simon Burgess also suggests the probability of pupils from poorer backgrounds going to their nearest secondary school drops dramatically if that school performs well in the league tables.
Professor Burgess analysed data from more than 500,000 pupils who took key stage 2 tests in 1997. He found that on average parents in England have a choice of six secondary schools within a 10-minute drive of home but that only 44 per cent pick the nearest one for their children.
Professor Burgess said it was unlikely that poorer families were voluntarily sending children further away. The implication was richer parents were "better at working the system".