Secondary school admissions can be even more of a minefield, especially if they
work on selective entry. Let’s consider the most famous selective schools - grammars.
The pressure for grammar school places is often exceptionally high, super bright
is no longer good enough, you now have to be super, super bright. So what happens
- well parents get tutors and/or send their children to private prep schools. So
a "catchment area" will be a reflection of affluence and ambition, rather than a
reflection of the distance that people live from the school. One cannot look at
an area and assume just because I live there I am going to get into this grammar
school – actually the reality is probably more likely to be, I live here because
I can afford to and therefore I can afford a tutor and/or independent preparatory
school to get my child into a grammar school.
Other state secondary schools can have their own variations of admissions criteria,
particularly with the growing number of academies and free schools – which are,
as mentioned previously, very high on the Government agenda.
For example, some academies use a “postcode lottery” – imagine a large lottery style
machine that they enter postcodes into and then this machine spits out the names
out of the lucky few. Who gets to go in to the postcode lottery? The children who
are applying all sit a banding test and representative samples from all bands go
into the postcode machine, e.g. if 50% of children end up in the top band they offer
50% of places to those top band children – what this means is that it is impossible
to predict a "catchment area" as you don’t know who will apply, let alone how clever
they are and which band they will get in to.
There are other state schools who offer some kind of scholarship programme – this
is not like an independent school scholarship, where fees are reduced - but rather
a way to prioritise children for admissions with particular talents, e.g. there
might be maths, sports and music scholarships. This means they can set aside a proportion
of their places for those children regardless of distance or siblings or any other
run of the mill admissions criteria – again "catchment areas" have no way to predict
who will apply for these and how many of these will be offered out.
Free schools, well they can just do whatever they like, literally, but they have
to publish what they do.