Call to tighten admissions to primaries as many are highly socially selective


New research by the Sutton Trust suggests over 1,500 English primary schools have complicated oversubscription criteria that result in intakes that are socially very different to their local neighbourhoods - meaning many disadvantaged pupils could be missing out on places at top-performing state schools.

The findings raise concerns about equity in access to primary schools, either because higher-income families are more likely to be able to exercise choice or because their admissions criteria favour certain pupils.

The report looked at the difference between the proportion of disadvantaged pupils in a school’s intake and that of its local neighbourhood to establish how socially selective it is. They found considerable variation in how much primary school intakes diverge from their local neighbourhood but the top 10% most socially selective primary schools have a proportion of disadvantaged pupils that are at least 9.2 percentage points different than the communities they serve. There are 1,576 schools in this category, with 310,000 pupils.

This could be hurting poorer children’s chances of success. The report identifies correlations between a school’s performance and its socially selectivity. Just 1% of schools in the bottom 10% for performance in Key Stage 2 tests are also in the top 10% most socially selective schools. In contrast, 14% of schools in the top 10% for Key Stage 2 are also in the top 10% of socially selective schools.

The most socially selective primary schools tend to use more complex oversubscription criteria than the typical school, which uses about five criteria. These are often faith-based which gives greater choice of school to churchgoing families, who are more likely to be of a higher social class. Of the 100 most socially selective primary schools identified by the brief, one used as many as 18 different oversubscription criteria.

The research brief identifies the 20 local authorities that have the biggest proportion of schools in the top 10% most socially selective primary schools. These include Blackpool, Hartlepool, Westminster and Hammersmith & Fulham. Outside London particularly, this appears to be a result of faith-based admissions policies in voluntary aided, particularly Catholic, schools in these towns. Proximity to the school tends to fall relatively far down the list of oversubscription criteria for these schools, as they prioritise baptised children living further away.

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