Children suffer serious distress in their final year at primary school because of the market-driven approach to admissions adopted by successive governments, according to a report published this week.
Children are not given enough information about secondary schools, it says, and complex admissions arrangements leave them feeling left out of a process which will have a serious impact on their futures.
Pupils believe admissions arrangements are unfair and feel that the process of application to and rejection from up to eight different schools drives a wedge between themselves and their classmates, says the Office of the Children's Rights Commissioner for London.
The office, which carried out the research, is funded by the National Lottery and children's charities.
The report's authors say the Government has made a mistake in creating many different types of secondaries, such as specialist and city technology colleges. What children want is a good local school that they can attend with their friends.
Changing Schools - the impact of the schools admissions process on children looked at the views of 140 Year 6 pupils and their teachers in four primary schools in London.
It found that children were suspicious of glossy brochures and wanted to be able to visit secondary schools during a normal school day so they could get a true picture of what it was like.
Pupils should also be able to get independent advice on schools and their admissions arrangements from an equivalent of a careers advisor, said Judy Templeton, one of the authors of the report.
"Education is about children's lives. They should be at the heart of the decision-making process. Instead the process of gaining a place at a secondary school is one of complete bewilderment."