High School Allocation/Lottery


Monday evening of this week was the time that nervous year 6 students and their parents had been waiting for anxiously for SIX whole months; it was the day they found out which secondary school they have been allocated.

It’s a long, long, nervous wait for most as children take their entrance exam (if applicable) and apply for school way back in September/October time. The school your child attends is one of the most important decisions we have to make as parents, and one that could affect the rest of their lives. We want to get it right.

But for many, the choice is not that simple.

For lots of families in England, the area they live in means the good schools are often so oversubscribed that the council only have one way to deal with this, and that is by introducing the dreaded 11+ exam. The children sit the exam then the schools are allocated based on different criteria, the main one being results of the exam, with the top scorers receiving the best school offer, other factors include siblings and catchment although the latter is no longer a guarantee, even if you live practically on top of the school!

It’s an unfair system that often sees copious amounts of children not gaining their first choice school. Or their second. Or third. Many don’t get any of the selections they made and are simply allocated any school that has places, which are obviously the schools which are the least desirable. Gone are the days when children just went to their nearest school!

To be in with a chance of securing ANY decent school in some areas, parents are having to tutor their child for months or even years to see that they get the highest marks possible, which for others isn’t feasible financially or their child still won’t reach top marks because they simply aren’t academic enough. The exam is tough and what I’ve seen this week is bright, tutored children who were expected to achieve a good mark, didn’t. Exam day stress ensured they didn’t quite reach the target, therefore not being offered the school they deserve.

Some areas have brought in the ‘banding’ system, which is much fairer. With this method, schools take a certain amount of children from each ‘band’ or ability groups, with the aim of having a more balanced intake, rather than just taking the brightest. I think if the 11+ was dropped completely in favour of this method, schools would be more on an equal par with each other, making the choice much easier for parents by simply choosing their nearest school.

If a child isn’t allocated a school they want, parents are given the option of  appealing. This entails putting together a list of reasons why you believe it’s in your childs best interest to attend the school of choice, then presenting your case to an independent panel. They will then make the decision as to whether to uphold your appeal. For some schools there could be upwards of 50 appeals, meaning your reasons need to be pretty desperate. There is however, the option of hiring a ‘professional’ to put a case together for you if this is something you feel strongly enough about, and lets face it, most of us do. A solicitor with some experience of these matters would be ideal. I do know families who have gone down this route and it has been very successful, but it could prove costly so you would need to be absolutely sure you want to do down this route.

We shouldn’t have to do this though. The whole process has become such a farce and a very stressful time.

Here in South Hertfordshire we have the 11+ exam and on Tuesday morning during the school run I witnessed many an upset Mum who was distraught at their allocated school. We have some excellent schools around here, some of the best, but the competition for places if fierce, with more than 30 children fighting for one place in some cases! It’s ludicrous. Some families are moving out of this area altogether, which is a quite a desirable place to live, and into an area where this ‘school lottery’ doesn’t exist, so they can apply for their nearest GOOD school in catchment.

There needs to be GOOD schools everywhere, for everyone.

If you haven’t been offered your preferred school initially there is still hope at this early stage. Usually there’s lots of movement as people accept their school choice then change their minds, people move, others decide to go down the private school route, or for whatever reason, places become available again. The most important thing at this stage is to stay on the continued interest lists for all the schools you would prefer, then as places become available you could be offered one of them. The lists keep shuffling all the way up to September and beyond so don’t give up hope. Fingers crossed!

Did you get your childs’ secondary allocation this week? Were you lucky enough to be offered your preferred school? Or was there disappointment? I’d love to hear from you!


  1. Oh my goodness this makes my brain hurt! I hadn’t realised that the system was like this! Thankfully I don’t have to worry about this..yet! Although I am hoping it has changed when we get there! Thanks for linking to PoCoLo x

    • Mummy Endeavours says

      It’s different in different areas, lots of areas don’t have it. It’s just that around here the five best secondary school are so oversubscribed this is how they deal with it! It’s just unfair for the children that aren’t necessarily academic, or simply have a bad day on the exam!

  2. It is such a daunting time isn’t it. We are very lucky here, we only have one senior school, and it is excellent. There is no choice, but there is no reason to need one, fortunately!

  3. WOW! I have an 11 yr old and we have been very lucky to get our first choice of secondary school! xx

  4. Thank goodness I am through the other side of all that school placement nightmare. It was a very daunting experience and one which I am glad I don’t have to endure again. Its so upsetting for parents and kids if they don’t get to be with friends. Best of luck with secondary school my lovely xxxxx

    • Mummy Endeavours says

      Hiya, I’m not going through this right now, Teen is in high school but I have another two years before my daughter goes. It’s just an unfair system I think and parents shouldn’t have to tutor their kids just to get into high school! It’s ridiculous x

  5. Sounds like a nightmare. Luckily i have a long time before all that, but I was a teacher in year5 and the secondary school worries started as far back as then!

  6. It definitely varies from area to area. Here in Ipswich the vast majority get their first choice High School I’m told (we transitioned last year). But yes – all schools should be “Good” – although the very best school by whichever criteria won’t suit every child 🙂

  7. That sounds like such a nightmare! I hope it has changed by the time Baby is that age x

  8. It is a nightmare trying to get the secondary school you want. Not fair on the kids at all xx

  9. In our part of Hertfordshire even when the nearest school is a good school people don’t seem to be happy. Perhaps local authorities should just do away with the choice and automatically allocate the nearest schools and then the communities around those schools might be more incentivised to support their local school and their teachers instead of constant criticism. No school is ever perfect. I have no idea what we will do when the time comes but I’m not looking forward to it! I hope you got your choices x

    • Mummy Endeavours says

      Hiya I completely agree with you. We have two ‘grammar’ schools (although not officially grammar’s because they take siblings and a small percentage of catchment) which people go crazy for but even the three next best are highly sought after and like you say, kids from miles away apply and pinch the places too…. not fair!

  10. Thankfully, we’re past this stage. I didn’t realises that the 11+ was for all schools in some areas. We don’t get a lot of choice here, just between Welsh or English medium schools. You can go outside the catchment area but only if that school has excess places.

  11. Hello xx
    Wow this must be so frustrating. The whole process worries me, although i have a fair few years yet until Olivia starts secondary school. I did not realise it was so bad in our area

    • Mummy Endeavours says

      Hiya, I’m sure it’s not like this where you are. Around here seems particularly bad. There are about 5/6 brilliant schools that local kids just aren’t being allocated! It’s bizarre!

  12. We’re waiting to hear about a place in Reception which is bad enough 🙂

  13. I honestly didn’t realise that it was like this, I just assumed that your child went to the nearest catchment school. I think that’s how it is here and just thought it was the same everywhere else x

  14. I’m not there yet thankfully, but am dreading it if it’s still the same in a few years

  15. This is quite interesting to read as I’m not that far away from you. Being slightly further into London though we don’t have the 11+ here but it seems to be the opposite if you know people moving out to get out of that 11+ system, I know a lot of people keen to move slightly outwards precisely to get into that system! With my youngest still 5 I have not looked yet in detail but will be looking into this soon enough.
    I went to secondary school as part of the 11+ system myself so personally I’ve only really experienced the positives of it, but then I have heard from others that around Watford if you don’t get your child into the grammars then the other schools are dire – I don’t know how true it is. I would be disappointed to see the 11+ system removed in it’s entirety though unless all schools actually started to push children towards achieving their maximum potential. I don’t want my child to just coast along? Within some grammar schools there is at least that atmosphere of attainment being expected and high achievement being seen as normal, whereas from what I know of some other schools it’s like someone is predicted to get a B – the attitude is ‘great that’s fine’, not considering whether that child could actually work a bit harder and get an A*?
    It must be pretty stressful though waiting for school allocations. I do remember growing up how much of a big deal the 11+ was on results day, and those who did not get were gutted but luckily there was an alternative good school locally which majority of these people went to instead

    • Mummy Endeavours says

      The problem is Anna is that the kids are so tutored nowadays that the bench mark for the schools (especially the grammars) is so high and going up each year that is really is such a tiny percentage of kids that reach that mark on the test. Plus like I said before, the grammar’s aren’t even grammars, they accept siblings and a tiny percentage of catchment so cannot call themselves a grammar, but they do perform like one nonetheless. So many bright kids go to pieces in the exam and that isn’t taken into consideration. It’s not fair for the kids who live near a decent school can’t get in! x

  16. it is so a daunting and thwart time

  17. Wow, I am NOT looking forward to this process as my boys get older… When I was a child, I went to a grammar school (only have these in Kent I think) and the entry was based partly on exam results, but also on teacher/school recommendation. I think that was a good way of ensuring that kids who did badly on exam day due to nerves or illness didn’t miss out – the teachers and coursework would back them up and they would still get a place.

    The only way to solve this issue is for ALL the schools to become good/great. We can dream, eh..?

  18. Mummy Endeavours says

    I so agree with you, that would ensure the kids that deserve places, get them. So many get exam day stress and cannot deal with it. Bright children who miss out! x

  19. cassfrugalfamily says

    We got our chosen school thank goodness although my 11 y/o is the only one out of all her friends who did get in!

  20. we are so far away from this but I’ve seen second hand how nerve wracking this can be! x

  21. I am glad we never had to worry about school catchment… there is rule that school should not refuse a foster child application… I like this rule, they have it hard as it is without worrying about school choice

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