Children in Sheffield’s poorer suburbs are having to travel further to get into higher performing primary schools – while those in wealthier areas are likelier to attend one on their doorstep.
New Sheffield University research has found over one in three – 36 per cent – of under-11s living in less affluent areas don’t go to their nearest school.
That compares with 49 per cent of youngsters living in Dore, Totley, Millhouses and other well-off areas who do go to their local primary.
But the report found that even well-off families who did opt for an alternative school were unlikely to have their children travelling far – as by far the majority of the top-performing primaries were in more prosperous areas.
Parents in poorer areas had a choice – accept a poorer performing school, or let their children travel much further to find another one.
And the location of good schools created a vicious circle whereby social advantages were locked in by higher house prices, the research found.
Dr Ed Ferrari said competition for the best schools could be especially fierce.
“Normally we hear anecdotes about parents trying to get into the catchments of a particular school, but we also know that catchments vary a lot and are not the only criteria used in allocating school places,” he said.
“It’s also the case that the majority of kids don’t go to the school that’s geographically nearest to them.
“The fact that so many good schools have overlapping areas of influence in the wealthiest neighbourhoods helps to explain a lot the persistent advantage in those neighbourhoods, including high house values, over time.
“It’s not just one school, but several. The focus clearly has to be on getting all schools up to the same level rather than allowing schools to decline as parents vote with their feet.
“This will have benefits in terms of reducing the need to travel huge distances across the city, and will help to rebalance the major differences in house prices between neighbourhoods.”
Researchers also looked at the environmental impact of current school travel, estimating that Sheffield pupils travel over 145,000 extra kilometres each day because they aren’t attending their local primary school.
Levels of car use for the daily school run were at an all time high, producing an extra 1,400 tons of extra C02 each year.
The report results will be available to planners across the UK.