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British Schools catchmentAnxious parents are willing to lie, cheat, and even change their religion to get their offspring into the right school. 

With the financial crisis in full swing, the soaring cost of living and independent schools pricing themselves out of the market, catchment area frenzy, to secure a place in top state schools, is gripping the nation like never before.

Desperate times, desperate measures

Enter the catchment area cheat, the parents who will do anything to get their children into the school of their choice and, while cheating to get into a school is nothing new, never have the stakes been as high. Pressure for places in the UK’s best state schools is intensifying with state grammar schools leading the way. 

Popular schools see upwards of 10 applicants for every place.

In 2016, almost half of children in some areas have been rejected from their preferred secondary school amid intense competition for the most sought-after places. Catchment areas are already shrinking as parents who had planned on private schooling join the battle for places in the best state schools.

“I never thought we’d be looking at the state sector,”

says Emma Whitworth, mother of three. Like many families, the Whitworths are reining in their spending in anticipation of hard times ahead. They, along with other middle class parents who in rosier times would be sewing name tapes on the local prep school blazer, have been banging on state school gates to try and secure a place. Many parents, who in previous years would have qualified, are finding themselves just outside the catchment area this year. 

School admissions - ins and outs

As school admission battles hot up parents have been warned that if a child gains a place on the basis of false information, their child may be removed from the school. Poole in Dorset made headlines when it used anti-terrorist legislation to spy on three families suspected of catchment cheating.

At the same time, LAs are becoming more vigilant in their monitoring.  An investigation by the Local Government Association found that, of 31 councils surveyed, 77 per cent reported an increase in the numbers of parents found to be lying on school admissions application forms.  

We know the likely catchment area and entrance criteria, but our own eyes show us parents pulling up at the school gates after motoring in from a distinctly non-catchment direction. So how can you find out where the pupils at each state school really come from? 

Real school catchment areas  - does a foot in the door mean living a mere few feet from the school? 

The Good Schools Guide has come up with a Catchment Area Analysis System that generates a graphic snapshot of the geographical spread of addresses from which pupils have been admitted to a school. For the first time, it is possible to see every state school’s REAL catchment area – the area within which pupils actually live. These are found on individual school pages (Catchment information is only produced for English state schools and you have to be a logged in subscriber to view).

So near, so far...

Catchment area anomalies may have a variety of reasons, relating to school and parental policies:

  • Church schools often give places to those living miles away who display tick the correct faith-related boxes (and many of these schools have been accused of social engineering).
  • One the oldest child has a place, families often move to a larger, cheaper house further away.
  • A selective or partially-selective school may give places to bright buttons from a wide area.
  • And of course parents have been known to rent a house next door during the admissions process.

To find the real catchment area for any English state school...

....go to its school page, on our site, and click on Catchment Area.

Don't be tempted to join the cheaters. Remember that the school of your dreams is not the only fish in the sea. 

Oversubscribed schools often suffer from huge class sizes, and their brilliant exam results may reflect the aspirations of the parents or too much emphasis on exam coaching rather than excellence of teaching.

A school’s popularity is often like the stock market: dependent on psychology and mob behaviour, rather than intrinsic value; and lately we've all learned plenty about that.


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    What do you want for your child? State school or fee-paying? Day or boarding school? Single sex or co-education? It helps to have a game plan, even if you change it at a later date. What do you want from the school? Undoubtedly you want to find a great school, one that's ideal for your child, with great teaching and possibly good facilities to match.

  • School open days

    They may not truly reflect day-to-day life at a school (this will be school at its best) but they'll give you a flavour of what's happening and allow you to soak up the atmosphere. They are your chance to have the upper hand, get a feel for the school and chat with pupils and staff. Do visit more than one school: it’s useful to compare and contrast.

  • Appealing for a school place

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  • From embryo to eighteen - how to survive the education highway

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  • Understanding the British school system

    Normal primary school admissions are at 3+ into the nursery or 4+ into the reception class. Some are divided into infant and junior schools, the latter starting at 7 years. Most secondary schools start at 11. For a normal application, you will need to apply – with a local address - by around mid-January for primary schools and the end of October of the year before entry for secondary schools.

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