Top state schools 'selecting' in secret

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Back-door selection to comprehensive schools is creating a two-tier state education system that is cheating children out of places at Britain's best schools.

Back-door selection to comprehensive schools is creating a two-tier state education system that is cheating children out of places at Britain's best schools.

Parents' desperation to get their children into the best schools is now driving up house prices, according to high street estate agents. They say property prices can be up to 30 per cent higher in the catchment area of schools at the top of the performance league tables, favouring pupils from richer backgrounds.

Teaching unions claim that schools are breaking the rules preventing selection by conducting admission tests, assessing pupil records or interviewing prospective students. The National Union of Teachers believes this situation will get worse when the number of "specialist" schools is increased under the Government's Education Bill, debated in the Commons this week.

A union spokesman said: "Once you get a massively oversubscribed school, even if you don't run a formal entrance exam you will be selecting – on parental income, on pupil records. In theory they are comprehensives; in practice they are highly selective schools. By labelling them special you are already saying the others are not."

Parents are increasingly prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to get places at schools that are performing well, even to the extent of moving house.

John Fearnehough from Ashley Adams estate agents in Derby said: "There are a couple of schools for which the demand is so high the house price is significantly higher. You can go half a mile down the road and prices are 30 per cent lower. The Ecclesbourne School in Duffield is particularly highly regarded. People will rent flats above shops to have an address in the catchment area or buy a house and sell it six months later."

In Birmingham, a sales negotiator for Connells estate agent said people were prepared to pay well over the odds for properties near King Edward's School in Harborne. "The average two-bedroom terrace in Harborne sells for £120,000. A similar house outside would sell for £80,000."

The Commons Education Select Committee is considering turning the spotlight on secondary education next year. Selection, and how to stop it when unauthorised, is likely to come under scrutiny.

Committee member Jonathan Shaw, the Labour MP for Chatham and Aylesford, said: "If schools are selecting where they have got no authority to select, that is wrong."

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