Thousands of schoolchildren are having their education decided by a "roll of the dice" as councils use a controversial selection practice in a bid to ensure the best schools are more comprehensive in make-up.
The practice of fair banding - in which a percentage of lower ability children are chosen for the better schools - or even a straight lottery system are being used by schools in more than a third of councils.
The news comes as parents prepare for "admissions day" on Tuesday, when more than half a million children in England will find out which secondary school they will attend in September.
Competition for school places is fierce in some urban areas with the William Hulme Grammar Academy in Manchester sifting through 433 applicants for just 120 places.
The number of schools using "fair banding" or lotteries has risen from one in four in 2009, to one in three in the latest survey, carried out in the fifth year that the options have been available to schools.
Education Secretary Michael Gove has pushed the "fair banding" admissions policy but it has been criticised by education bodies as 'social engineering'.
Families have attacked the policy because they say it penalises middle class families for the sake of political correctness and lowers property values close to good schools if residents aren't guaranteed entry to those local schools.
According to a survey conducted by the Daily Telegraph one in nine children are expected to miss out on their preferred school - around 60,000 pupils - while in some areas the figure rises as high as 40 per cent.
In the survey of 110 councils in England with responsibility for education, 27 used lotteries to decide pupil places, while 21 used "fair banding".Some schools used both policies, meaning that the practices were used in 38 of the 110 schools - more than a third.Schools which use fair banding, such as the William Hulme Grammar Academy, defend the practice, saying it ensures "a completely comprehensive intake with children of all abilities and from all ethnic backgrounds."