Families are hedging their bets by sacrificing huge deposits and putting children through numerous entrance exams to secure places at the most popular independent schools.
Families are playing the system by applying to as many as nine schools and paying often non-refundable deposits of up to £1,600 each for places that their children may never take up.
Schools say that the insurance practices adopted by panicked parents are hindering their planning for the next academic year and have even led to playground arguments between some competing adults.
On Monday, many independent secondary schools found out how many parents had accepted their offers of a place for a 10- or 11-year-old. But, despite the exams and interviews needed to win these places, more and more are being rejected by parents who end up with several offers on the table.
Heads say that it is becoming increasingly common for families in London to “spread their bets”.
David Goodhew, headteacher at Latymer Upper School, a private school in Hammersmith, told TES that five years ago, parents were applying for approximately three schools, but that this has since tripled.
“It makes it hard to organise offers. If you get it wrong you could get a bulge year or get too few financially,” he said.
The rising number of applications, combined with more affluent parents accepting offers that they will not take, is also causing problems for other families who are left waiting.
Mr Goodhew said he was concerned by “the anxiety and heartache” that parents and children put themselves through with multiple exams and applications. “Parents are at their wits’ end. It is the impact on kids and the nerves of parents that is worrying,” he said.
This is an edited version of an article in the 11 March edition of TES. Subscribers can read the full article here. This week’s TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here