Education Mar 14 2010

School admission cheats may lose places

Parents caught lying to get their children into oversubscribed state schools should lose that place according to the Schools Adjudicator, and not before time. When his report late last year outlined the extent to which some families cheat their way into the preferred schools, the debate immediately shifted to whether those parents should be prosecuted.

But successive governments have signalled to parents that they should do what is ‘best for their child’ even if that is at the expense of someone else’s. So it is obviously tricky for politicians to advocate criminal prosecutions ( as some local authorities would like)  when parents are just following instructions, even if that does sometimes involves a sophisticated degree of collusion between friends, neighbours and family members to pass off temporary addresses, moves and marriage breakups as genuine.So the Adjudicator Ian Craig was asked by Children’s Secretary Ed Balls to look at what sanctions could be used instead.

Cheating to get a school place is not a victimless crime. Some estimates suggest that more than 4000 fraudulent applications were made last year so a lot of children may be taking up places in popular schools that should righty go to others who live nearer those schools.

Local authorites will now run whistleblowing hotlines, where people can report suspected cheats, and carry out random sampling of applications. Schools will be required to convene appeals panels which can then either remove the place or the right of siblings to attend the same school.

Opponents of this sort of draconian action usually argue that parents have no choice because so many schools are ‘failing’, but the Harrow mum, whose fraudulent application to one local primary school thrust this issue into the spotlight after the local authority dropped an attempt at prosecution, had in fact been offered a place at another very good school. It just wasn’t quite as good as the one she wanted for her five year old son. I recently heard of a similar story, of two mothers at the same primary school, who planned to set up home together near a much sought after ‘outstanding’ secondary school, then claim they were in a same sex relationship so that their daughters could be classed as siblings. This would allow them to avoid, not a failing school , but a nearer,  also oversubscribed, ‘good’ school.

The irony is that the children of parents who are prepared to go to such great lengths to get their children into the right school will probably have enough support and encouragement at home to do perfectly well wherever they go. But they may be edging out another pupil who would  benefit from his or her local school and who would then have to travel futher every day and leave behind primary school classmates.

So some sanctions are necessary. Nobody should underestimate the bitterness and resentment felt by families who do play by the rules, often  the less affluent and less knowing, when they see others gaining at their expense. Today’s announcement is a small step towards making the system fairer for them.

One Response to “School admission cheats may lose places”

  1. Politique says:

    Fiona correctly identifies the great lengths that individuals, in the way of parents strive towards by not being entirely truthful in the content of the information they supply. Similarly, primary school admissions in catchment areas of good secondary schools would need to scrutinised. Parents are planning early and moving their place of residence a couple of years in advance to ensure a place at a good secondary school. It would be pleasing if Mr Pluralism (Ed Balls)would go to the same lengths in scrutinising Academies for “cherry picking” (cheating)the best pupils and families during admissions procedures before he leaves Government on May 6th.

Leave a Reply