Top state schools ‘flooded with over 1,000 applications’


Up to 18 children are competing for each place at the most popular state schools amid a desperate scramble for a “Rolls-Royce” education, the Telegraph has learnt.

Parents are flooding an elite group of grammar schools, faith schools and flagship academies with more than a thousand applications, it was revealed.

Experts warned that demand for the most sought-after places was being driven by an increase in the number of recession-hit parents seeking a top-quality free education as an alternative to private schools.

But the sheer number of applications for England’s top schools has led to the introduction of controversial admissions rules designed to stop middle-class parents “playing the system” to secure places.

Around one-in-six of the most oversubscribed are selecting equal numbers of high, middle and low-ability pupils or using lotteries to engineer a more comprehensive intake, figures show.

The move means that some pupils could be overlooked in favour of peers living further away from the school gates.


Al-Hijrah School, Birmingham, 18.35 (F)

Herschel Grammar, Slough, 14 (AC / SEL)

Langley Grammar, Slough, 13 (AC / SEL)

Sutton Grammar for Boys, Sutton 13 (AC / SEL)

Harris Academy Crystal Palace, Croydon, 12.3 (AC)

Tiffin Girls’ School, Kingston upon Thames, 12.3 (AC / SEL)

Tiffin Boys’ School, Kingston upon Thames, 12 (AC / SEL)

The Latymer School, Enfield, 11 (SEL / F)

King Edward VI Five Ways, Birmingham, 10.6 (AC / SEL)

Slough Grammar, Slough, 10.5 (AC / SEL)

King Edward VI Camp Hill for Boys, Birmingham, 9.7 (AC / SEL)

Queen Mary’s Grammar, Walsall, 9.4 (AC)

Dixons City Academy, Bradford, 9.3 (AC)

Burnham Grammar, Buckinghamshire, 9 (AC / SEL)

West London Free School, Hammersmith & Fulham, 8.9 (FR)

Sir Henry Floyd Grammar, Buckinghamshire, 8.4 (AC / SEL)

Graveney School, Wandsworth, 8.3 (AC)

William Hulme’s Grammar, Manchester, 8.3 (AC)

Queen Mary’s High, Walsall, 8.2 (AC)

King Edward Grammar for Boys, Essex, 8 (AC / SEL)

Kingsdale School, Southwark, 7.7 (AC)

St Olave’s Grammar, Bromley, 7.5 (SEL / F)

Dunraven School, Lambeth, 7.5 (AC)

Archbishop Tenison’s CE High, Croydon, 7.3 (F)

Sandwell Academy, Sandwell, 7.3 (AC)

Sir John Cass’s Foundation, Tower Hamlets, 7.2 (F)

Chelmsford County High for Girls, Essex, 7 (AC / SEL)

The Charter School, Southwark, 6.8 (AC)

Ashcroft Technology Academy, Wandsworth 6.6 (AC)

St Marylebone CE, Westminster, 6.6 (F)

NOTE: Schools listed by number of applications (all preferences by parents) and local authority area. AC= academy, F= faith school, SEL= academically selective, FR= free school.


The Department for Education insisted it had introduced new powers to enable the most oversubscribed state schools to expand, creating additional capacity.

But the latest figures suggest that tens of thousands of parents are still being left disappointed.

The Telegraph requested data on the most oversubscribed schools in each council area. Figures obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show:

• A Muslim secondary in Birmingham – the Al-Hijrah – was the country’s most sought-after school, with 18 pupils competing for each of its 60 places;

• Two grammar schools in Slough – Herschel and Langley – had 14 and 13 applications for each place, respectively;

• The Harris Academy in Crystal Palace, south London, was the most sought-after school without a religious ethos or academic selection, with 2,212 applications for 180 places – 12 pupils for each vacancy;

• In total, 20 schools in England had at least eight applications per place;

• The majority of England’s most popular schools had secured academy status, giving them complete control over admissions and the curriculum, while one-in-eight were grammar schools and one-in-six were faith schools.

The disclosure came as The Good Schools Guide – established 26 years ago with a focus on helping parents secure the best private education – started running its first dedicated state school consultancy service because of the sheer demand for places at “Rolls Royce state schools”.

Janette Wallis, the guide’s senior editor, said it had seen a sharp rise in parents seeking a top state school after being priced out of fee-paying education.

“Grammars, top faith comprehensives and academies are more in demand than ever,” she said. “There are some brilliant ‘supercomps’ out there now, often led by superheads and getting super results.

“In most cases, however, these highest achieving comprehensives have some element of selection, whether via geography, church attendance or a percentage admitted on the basis of aptitude.”


Matt Richards, founder and senior partner of School Appeals Services, said some families made unrealistic applications, adding: “It is still the case that many parents don’t make preferences that are achievable. You may get hundreds of kids sitting a grammar school entrance test when their parents know they don’t have a hope in hell of getting in.”

The Telegraph requested data on the three most oversubscribed schools in each council area, although some authorities could only name one or two schools.

In all, 102 out of 152 authorities in England supplied complete figures relating to 291 schools.

Parents can usually apply to between three and six schools each, although heads have to treat each application equally and cannot prioritise families naming a school as their first preference.

Rules introduced under Labour also gave heads the power to impose new admissions systems to give all pupils a fairer chance of accessing top schools – stopping middle-class families “buying” their way in by moving into the local catchment area.

Under the move, schools can place all or some pupils into a “lottery” and award places using a random ballot. They can also use “fair banding”, in which applicants sit aptitude tests and an equal number of high, middle and low achieving pupils win places.

According to figures, 47 out of 291 used at least one of these admissions processes. Eight used both systems, while 12 ran lotteries and 27 employed fair banding.

Parents in London were most likely to face these admissions rules, although they were also employed by popular schools in Bradford, Manchester, Bristol, Derby, Liverpool, Northampton, Middlesbrough and Brighton.

Al-Hijrah School, in the Bordesley Green area of Birmingham, which had 1,101 applications for 60 places this year, currently uses random allocation.

Bradford’s Dixons City Academy, which received 1,532 applications for 165 places this year – more than nine-to-one – used both fair banding and random allocation.

The same system is used by William Hulme’s Grammar School, a former fee-paying school in Manchester that converted into a state institution in 2007. It had 996 applications for its 120 places in 2012 – eight-to-one.

But Mrs Wallis said: “Lotteries and fair banding drive many parents’ blood pressure through the ceiling.

“Most parents we speak to hate lottery-style admissions policies because it feels arbitrary. Fair banding has an underpinning of logic but drives parents mad when a child in different band from their son or daughter gets a school place even though the child lives further from the school than they do.”

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We are creating thousands more school places and raising standards throughout the country so that every child has the chance to go to a good local school.

“We have made £2.7 billion available since 2011 for those local authorities that face the greatest pressure on places and this month we announced an extra £1 billion to build new free schools and academies and expand existing good schools.

“Last year we revised the admissions code to make it fairer and simpler for all parents and we have banned councils from using lotteries as the principal method of allocating school places.”

By Graeme Paton, Education Editor Telegraph