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The Progressive Policy Think Tank

School Admissions: Fair choice for parents and pupils

We argue in this paper that the current school admissions system is a cause of segregation by social class and ability across our schools system, and is thus likely to hamper efforts to improve all schools. In addition, it is likely to lead to systematic unfairness in terms of whose preferences can be satisfied. We argue that a system of fair choice would take into account the need to achieve a balanced intake in every school.

The school admissions system is one of the most contentious areas of education policy, and secondary school admissions in particular have become a highly controversial political issue.

Parents naturally want their children to go to the best possible school, and the process of choosing and being allocated a place can be extremely stressful. Each year this is reflected in media features about the 'best' schools, and in stories about over-subscribed schools, disappointments, appeals and the various strategies employed by parents to get what they want for their children.

The current system is often described as being based on the principle of parental choice. Yet it is a matter of fact that not all parental choices can be satisfied when popular schools are over-subscribed.

We argue in this paper that the current admissions system is a cause of segregation by social class and ability across our schools system, and is thus likely to hamper efforts to improve all schools. In addition, it is likely to lead to systematic unfairness in terms of whose preferences can be satisfied. We argue that a system of fair choice would take into account the need to achieve a balanced intake in every school.