This paper analyses rural migrant children's access to public schools in urban China, focusing on the implications of the recent introduction of points systems for apportioning school places. This approach, first piloted by Zhongshan city in Guangdong province from 2009, has steadily been extended nationwide. Here, we analyse the reasons for its spread and for divergence in its implementation in various urban districts. Notwithstanding rhetorical claims that points systems promote “fairness” or “equality” in the treatment of migrants, our analysis suggests that they maintain or even exacerbate the stratification of urban society, lending new legitimation to the hierarchical differentiation of entitlements. This is consistent with the aim of the 2014 “New national urbanization plan” to divert urban growth from megacities towards smaller cities. However, we argue that the use of points systems should also be seen in the context of an evolving bureaucratic-ideological project aimed at more rigorously monitoring and assessing China's entire population, invoking the logic of meritocracy for the purpose of control.