3 March 2014

As the results of secondary school applications are eagerly awaited, the Sutton Trust has released new research showing that the inclusion of random allocation ballots and ability banding in admission criteria is on the rise and recommends that more schools use these approaches.

Although the main admissions criteria continue to reflect how near pupils live to the school or whether their siblings already attend, the system where pupils are tested and placed in different ability bands to provide a comprehensive intake has increased from 95 in 2008 to 121 in 2012/13. In addition, 42 schools used random allocation in 2012/13 to obtain a broad mix of pupils.

The growth in the use of banding and ballots is especially prevalent in sponsored academies and free schools which can set their own admissions policies: 17% of sponsored academies used one or both criteria compared with 5% of all comprehensives.

Emphasising that access to the most popular schools “should not be limited to those who can afford to pay a premium on their mortgages or rents”, Conor Ryan, Director of Research and Communications at the Sutton Trust said it is encouraging that more schools are using banding and ballots “as a way to get a more balanced intake”.

He did, however, recognise parents’ fear that children living in close proximity to the school might not be admitted and pointed out that including systems such as inner and outer catchment areas can address this problem.