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Thumb tack in map of British Isles | The Good Schools GuideSchool catchment area frenzy is gripping the nation as anxious parents lie, cheat, and even change their religion to get their offspring into the right school.

And as the cost of living continues to soar and many independent school fees remain out of reach for the majority, there’s no sign of the trend slowing down, with hordes of parents willing to do almost anything to get their children into the state school of their choice.

Catchment area cheats who's affected?

Middle class parents, who in rosier times would be sewing name tapes on the local prep school blazer, are turning instead to banging on state school gates to try and secure a place. Consequently, parents who would have qualified in previous years are finding themselves just outside the catchment area this year. 

Grammar schools lead the way when it comes to pressure for places in the UK’s best state schools, but it happens in comprehensives too. Popular schools see upwards of 10 applicants for every place. In some areas, almost half of children are rejected from their preferred secondary school amid intense competition for the most sought-after places.

What happens to those who are caught?

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.

Local authorities are certainly under no illusion on the breadth of the problem and 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.

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. 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).

Why are there so many anomalies?

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).
  • Once 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.

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. 

The brilliant exam results of oversubscribed schools 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.

For more help with choosing the right school for your child, visit go to our state school section for admissions information on primary, secondary and sixth form.

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