Headteachers are courting the parents of bright children and manipulating waiting lists, say academics from the London School of Economics
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Headteachers are employing underhand tactics, such as courting the parents of very bright children and manipulating waiting lists, academics from the London School of Economics said.
The findings came as the chief schools adjudicator warned that the government’s new code (www.dcsf.gov.uk/) on school admissions provided a “bonanza” for lawyers being hired by parents, schools and local authorities.
Ministers hoped the stricter code, which came into force in February, would make admissions fairer, but the LSE study of five local authorities found that the code was not enough to stop schools tricking one another, and that it was “not difficult to find schools that fell foul of the code”.
Researchers were told that the headteacher of a school with surplus places had contacted parents to persuade them to reject offers from a more popular school.
Another school was said to rank children on its waiting list according to its own criteria rather than the official rules which put children with special needs before others. Another was said to have picked pupils according to how near their homes were to a building half a mile from the school, in an attempt to upgrade its intake.
A secondary school had tried to impress parents by naming one primary as a “feeder” school, without telling the primary school.
These dubious practices can leave some families in “dead zones” – neighbourhoods where children stand little chance of an offer from any popular school in their area, the academics told a conference on fair school admissions in London today.
“Major concerns remain about school admissions, raising questions about fairness,” Philip Noden, an education research fellow at the LSE and one of the study’s authors, said.
The study said: “While most admissions authorities were thought to operate their admission arrangements in accordance with the relevant rules, there was some evidence of a small number of schools breaking admissions rules or adopting practices that would be unlikely to be supported by regulatory authorities.” “There is a world of suspicion out there,” Noden said. People were “very doubtful about the motives” of some schools. “While the code states that it is ‘necessary to improve the chances of more disadvantaged children getting into good schools’, it is clear that those interpreting the code are not taking advantage of all opportunities to improve those chances,” he said.
The study found that many of those who decide a school’s admissions policy struggle to understand the new code. Even those “working day-to-day on admissions stated that they found the code a difficult document”.
Rather than tighten the rules, ministers should give local authorities more control over the administration of school admissions, the researchers suggest. This would include faith schools and academies, which have their own admissions arrangements.
Last year, the education secretary, Ed Balls, revealed that some state secondary schools in England had been caught charging parents for the privilege of being given a place.
Now competition at top state schools is fiercer than ever as middle-class families seek to save on private school fees in the recession.
Meanwhile, the chief schools adjudicator for England, Ian Craig, told the conference that lawyers were cashing in on the complexity of the code as more parents, local authorities and schools hired them.
He said: “Unfortunately, the more complex the code, the more lawyers are earning their money trying to find ways to around it. There will be more challenges in the high court on admissions issues. I’m convinced of that.”
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