Equal preference (i.e. the system where parents submit an application for schools in which they do not rank the preference or the preference is ignored by the process) was introduced in an attempt to allow automatic computerised school selection based on postcode. This was supposed to save money. In reality, many areas now have to publish which schools children are allocated to up to 3 month later because of the additional workload created by the process.
Currently, equal preference school selection is performed by bureacrats behind close doors who exercise considerable judgement. This removes transparency and makes it harder for parents to complain about the school the are allocated to. In effect this removes an important level of accountability in the process.
Equal preference means that children are generally allocated to there nearest school even if that is not the parents choice and places could be found in the preferred choice. It means that to be sure of getting a school place, parents are forced to buy houses ever closer to popular schools. This has dramatically driven up house prices in many areas.
The old system based on published catchment areas was much fairer — catchment areas were often developed over 150 years to take account of local issues and ensured catchment areas coverred a balance of local families.