Hundreds of pupils are being given places at grammar schools without having to pass entrance exams, figures reveal.
More than 750 were let in last year after failing the 11-plus, suggesting some schools are now less selective.
The news comes amid political pressure for the schools to become less elitist and to take more disadvantaged pupils.
Yesterday, heads said it may be down to some adopting admissions criteria that let in children from poor families with scores below the standard pass.
The Government has called for all grammars to prioritise poor pupils, and is offering money for more school buildings to those that do.
More than 750 were let in last year after failing the 11-plus, suggesting some schools are now less selective (stock image)
The area with the most places going to children who didn’t pass is Kent, where all primary pupils still take the 11-plus.
Jim Skinner, chairman of the Grammar School Heads’ Association, told The Times Educational Supplement the ‘vast majority’ of grammar schools were ‘heavily oversubscribed’ and not able to offer places to all the pupils who had passed their admissions tests.
But he added: ‘In some areas, including Kent, there is a review process which allows primary headteachers to put forward pupils who did not pass.’
The admissions figures were obtained using the Freedom of Information Act by Comprehensive Future, a group that opposes grammar schools.
It found 757 children had been admitted to grammars through an appeals process, having not passed the exam. It said the overall figure was likely to be higher because 59 out of the country’s 163 grammars did not respond to the FOI request.
Comprehensive Future claims disadvantaged families are less likely to get grammar places because they cannot afford to coach their children to do the tests. But data the group used to criticise grammars suggests they have become more inclusive in their admissions.
It claimed some of the schools may be letting in children with substandard scores because they were ‘struggling to fill places’. Its chairman, Nuala Burgess, said: ‘It puts any reputation for academic excellence into question if academic standards can be dropped the minute there is a financial incentive.
‘Such tactics would suggest that the £200million this Government has designated to expanding selective schools is a sheer waste of money. Far from being over-subscribed, many grammar schools appear to struggle to fill their allocation.’
A Department for Education spokesman said: ‘Admission authorities for grammar schools decide how they assess pupils who apply for a place – the 11-plus exam is used by all grammar schools for pupils entering Year Seven. Pupils who have moved to a grammar outside this period may be assessed through other means.’