Skip to main content

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.

Most popular Good Schools Guide articles

  • Choosing a school - tips for parents

    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.

  • State boarding schools

    If you think your child would benefit from a boarding school education, but are put off by the high fees and consequent limited social mix of a typical independent boarding school, you may find that a state boarding school is the answer. Read more... State grammar schools Counties such as Kent or Buckinghamshire are ‘selective authorities’ and most families will have at least one grammar school close to where they live. Elsewhere, for example in Reading or Kingston-on-Thames, there are just one or two grammar schools and competition for places at these is ferocious. Grammar schools are located in 36…

  • 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.

  • The UK school system

    The first thing to know about the UK school system is that there isn’t one. Each of the four nations – England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland - operates differently, with different curricula. However, there are similarities too, especially in the independent sector.   

  • Music, drama and dance at Performing Arts schools

    At specialist music, dance or performing arts schools, the arts aren't optional extras. They’re intrinsic to the school curriculum. Students are expected to fit in high level training and hours of practice alongside a full academic provision. It's a lot to ask any child to take on, but for those with exceptional performing ability this kind of education can be transformative.

Subscribe for instant access to in-depth reviews:

☑ 30,000 Independent, state and special schools in our parent-friendly interactive directory
☑ Instant access to in-depth UK school reviews
☑ Honest, opinionated and fearless independent reviews of over 1,200 schools
☑ Independent tutor company reviews

Try before you buy - The Charter School Southwark

Buy Now

GSG Blog >

The Good Schools Guide newsletter

Educational insight in your inbox. Sign up for our popular newsletters.


Our most recent newsletter: