More than half of the nation's state school pupils do not go to their local secondary school, according to research published yesterday.
Even in areas where schools are non-selective, fewer than half of parents send their offspring to the nearest comprehensive, the research from the University of Bristol showed.
Both Labour and the Conservatives have said that their education election manifestos will give priority to offering parents more choice of schools. The study has shown the extent to which choice is already being used by parents.
Children from the poorest homes are more likely than not to be deprived of the chance of going to good local schools. Two-thirds of children on free school meals who live near one of the top 20 per cent of schools in exam performance tables have to travel to one that does not perform as well.
Researchers believe they are being squeezed out by more affluent parents from further away winning places through interviews - a process ministers are trying to ban.
Professor Simon Burgess, who led the research, said: "It doesn't seem like it's a voluntary move. It looks like some other kids have come and taken places at these good schools through interviews."
The worry for ministers is that their attempts to improve parental choice may lead to more poorer pupils being denied the chance to go to top performing schools.
Unsurprisingly, it was in selective areas, which retain grammar schools, that the least number of pupils went to their nearest schools (only 30 per cent). In non-selective areas the figure was almost 47 per cent.
Urban areas had 43 per cent going to local schools. In rural areas, where there was less choice, the figure was 57 per cent. Most parents were sending children to schools within a 10-minute drive (up to five miles away) of their local school.Reuse content