School Place Thieves

(78 Posts)
jojo28 Wed 24-Jul-13 11:18:58

I had to bite down hard on my fist when I read this
www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/school-cheats-checks-on-lying-parents-top-1000-8723077.html in the Independent. I have had first hand experience this year of Camden?s ineffective response to parents seeking to circumvent the oversubscription criteria of our local school.

The head teacher and parents with children attending Eleanor Palmer School nursery alerted Camden?s admission team to parents who had moved out of their family homes into rental flats next door to the outstanding school to ensure their applications were successful.

Despite being given a considerable amount of information about these families cynical plan to jump the queue, the council came down firmly on their side. Camden declared that as long as the families were living in the rental flats at the time of their application was submitted the parents would be awarded places, even if that meant honest parents whose homes were genuinely closer to the school lost out. Camden had left themselves with little option having failed to word their starting school guide correctly. The nebulous language in their starting school guide handed out to parents did not define clearly what was considered a valid home address, it did not clearly state that renting temporarily for the sole purpose of gaining a school place would be considered fraudulent nor did it require parents to declare if they owned additional property in the locality. The local community and the head teacher watched powerless as wealthy parents were given free reign to manipulate the admissions criteria.

It is telling that the only person Camden managed to bust was a young single mum who unknowingly applied from her mum?s address because she lives there most of the week. The parents who cynically circumvented the system, carefully planning their subterfuge, got away with it. As Camden admissions team explained to honest parents who lost out this year ?life ain?t fair.?

JubesofKT Wed 24-Jul-13 12:35:14

Re Eleanor Palmer School Place Theft:
It is disingenuous of Camden council to claim they have functioning systems in place to detect school place theft. They were handed all the necessary information to bust the Eleanor Palmer school place cheats but were unable to do so because it was not made clear in their guidance that renting and living in a temporary property was not allowed. In case anyone is thinking of repeating this ruse they are changing it for next year to make it clear in the very strongest terms that renting somewhere for less than a year prior to registration will be considered 'temporary' and it is up to the renter to prove it is the legitimate home. No praise is due to a sleepy council and lumpen unresponsive admissions team for this slow and overdue reform.
As for the cheats themselves - I wonder if they know how unpopular they have made themselves in the community? Bar the odd curmudgeonly journalist - most of the school community including the head teacher have expressed their disdain. It will take some front to Rock up to school in September as though their kids' places were legitimately acquired when everyone knows what they did to get them. Quite apart from that, what sort of message are they giving their kids at this tender age - "Yeah babes go to a lovely state school - get down with your community - but if there is something they have that you really want - step all over them any way you can to get it" Nice.

Wossname Wed 24-Jul-13 12:40:30

I dont know why I am ever surprised to read something like this. It's just so blatant and mercenary. I think, though, if you're the kind of person to do this then you are exactly the kind of person to show your face with no shame whatsoever in September.

If the council doesn't define what is 'cheating' then no cheating has taken place on this occasion. Morally it's wrong but it sounds as if the parents in Camden have simply followed the letter of the law as it was defined. Of course parents circumvent the system. When I moved house I made damn sure we bought near a good secondary. Is that cynical or sensible? It's a very fine line sometimes.

tiggytape Wed 24-Jul-13 13:24:38

As of next year, Camden say they will adopt the same wording as Hackney which states:

“we can’t accept a temporary address if you still possess a property that was previously used as a home address”.

This is what most London councils do now because people cheat if they can and unless it is absolutely spelt out to them - you must not rent to get a place - then they will and they do.
In previous years it went unnoticed and unchallenged - it was much rarer and affected less people.
Camden have been caught by surprise by the sheer numbers applying (high birth-rate year groups from now onwards means this is a permanent change) and by the desperation that drives people to spend thousands of £ getting into a school which may actually be their local school already but they don't live quite close enough.

The article about Camden changing its policy is here
Whatever your moral stance on this, it is important that councils don't let people rent just to get a place and do all they can to prevent it with really specific rules and follow up action. There aren't enough places to go round as it is -you simply cannot allow people to juggle their addresses for a few months to get a 'good' school and cause carnage to everyone else.

tiggytape Wed 24-Jul-13 13:37:41

That sounds like I am defending Camden - I am definitely not. If any London council doesn't grasp that it is in the middle of the biggest baby boom / school place crisis for many decades so stringent checks are needed - then they are very naive indeed.

And I agree - about the people who have gained their places through cheating. Being a figure of public dislike isn't a great start to school life. The other parents at the school gates will all have friends and relatives whose children lost out this year and blatantly trampling over other people's children to get a school place doesn't tend to make you a welcome addition to any school or endear you and your children to the rest of the school community.

jojo28 Wed 24-Jul-13 14:37:01

Yes being able to buy a house within catchment does favour wealthy parents but you surely must try to make the system as fair as possible? Allowing people to rent regardless of whether you own a home around the corner already leaves very little opportunity for local people without the means and who prefer to go about things honestly to go to their local school. The admissions code demands that councils admissions arrangements are 'clear fair and objective'. Just to add that these parents would have gotten in to another outstanding Camden primary school but they want the one with 20 per cent free school meals not 50!

MGMidget Fri 26-Jul-13 10:08:50

I am surrounded (literally) by people who have done this for our local outstanding primary in another part of London. All very blatant but complies with council's rather weak systems. Council reluctant to do anything as they would need to spend lots of money investigating and a recent court case brought by another council was unsuccessful. It is amazing how many people in our area do it. So many in fact that when we were eventually offered a place at the school from the waiting list we declined as we didn't want our DS in a school where at least 50 per cent of the children have parents who cheated the system.

nlondondad Fri 26-Jul-13 16:55:59

Think this has three parts:-

1. Obviously people are influenced when they buy by school provision, and everyone in London will know of anomalous schools, often small ones -one form entry -that happen to be in "nice' areas with predominantly large, family, houses (so REALLY pricey) which end up with very small catchments. And estate agents will tell you what the price premium is for an "in catchment" house as opposed to one outside.

2. Obviously you cannot stop people from applying from a flat they rent, as that would be discriminating against renters, unless they were obviously just using it as an accomodation address and home visits can pick that up. (Family of four, with large owned property too far away, who claim to be living at a bed sit for purpose of school application.) but there are grey areas. How actually do you determine that a rented property is, or is not, the principal residence?

3. The case we are talking about seems extreme enough not to admit of being a grey area, and is actually very serious, as a bunch of too clever by half parents are destabilising the whole system, as unless this loophole is seen to be plugged what will happen next year?

tiggytape Fri 26-Jul-13 17:36:29

They are plugging the loophole - as most other London boroughs did ove rthe last 1-3 years.
They are saying parents can apply from a rented house or flat but not if they still own a property that was ever lived in as the family home.
This wording neatly avoids the problem of people simply camping in a flat for 6 months to get a school place before moving back to their real home again.

It is all too late for this year's children - the lack of a clear definition of the rules led some people to cheat successfully but Camden finally seem to have caught up with what the rest of London does.
And it doesn't need money or dawn raids - a click of a mouse is normally all it takes or a few phonecalls: council tax history, details held by children's current school, details held by utilities etc to see if any former address is not yet disposed of.

JakeBullet Fri 26-Jul-13 17:41:21

Also look out for the OFSTED changes and watch their mouths drop open when it is downgraded at the next inspection.

Disclaimer. ..no idea if it will be but many Outstanding schools HAVE been downgraded since the goalposts changed.

frogs Fri 26-Jul-13 18:13:16

nlondondad, have you seen how Dame Alice Owens deal with this issue? It's hardcore, but shows what can be done if the will is there.

jojo28 Sat 27-Jul-13 16:56:50

In our planning area there are enough places but middle class parents still prefer to send their children to schools with less poor people in! Some of the parents who rented additional properties to get into Eleanor Palmer would have got into another great school, Torriano, if they had applied from their true home address. It is also rated outstanding by Ofsted but I can only conclude that because it has a higher intake of children on free school meals it did not suit. Middle class parents need to have a little more faith in their parenting skills and read about how life outcomes have more to do with family background/values than what bloody primary school they go to.

nlondondad Sat 27-Jul-13 18:27:07

@frogs

No I had not seen the Dame Alice Owen Rules: They are, in law, their own admission authority, so thats why they would have had to draw them up themselves.

They look very good indeed to me, someone should draw them to Camden's attention as they would plug the gap. Camden needs to do something about this as otherwise next year's applications to Eleanor Palmer will be pandomonium!

MrsSalvoMontalbano Sat 27-Jul-13 18:43:04

I ma impressed that they are smart enough t look at consumption of gas and elec - respect! Just a shame that our council-tax-funded LAs are having to do this forensic detective work, at our expense sad. Also that the cheaters will leave the heating on at full blast to prove their consumption...

TPFamily Sun 28-Jul-13 12:27:38

I get the impression that some people don't fully understand what's actually happening here: families are moving out of their own homes and renting elsewhere for a temporary period (at least one year). They don't need to falsify gas or electricity usage because they have moved in to the temporary accommodation and are living there. The council checking utility usage or council tax records is hardly forensic detective work - it's checking the simplest and most obvious evidence of occupation.

There's also no 'grey area' as suggested above. If you possess a property and the mortgage is in your name and you have previously used that property as your home address, then that is your primary address. If you then rent a property in the area, that property is not your primary address. There's no confusion here, it's quite simple. Families who are manipulating the system to get in to Eleanor Palmer have done exactly that, they've rented a property and moved in, while letting their own residence to someone else. Camden Council have been informed of this and have done nothing as their current procedures allow for such tactics.

People have provided various explanations for the reasons they have moved in to temporary accommodation, although it is obvious that such situations are contrived excuses to gain an advantage for the purposes of school application on the distance criteria.

Camden Council have now changed their guidelines for next year's admissions round but had the new guidelines already been in place I suspect the explanations offered by the cheats would never have presented themselves and local families whose genuine home addresses are closer than those of the cheats would have been offered places at their LOCAL school.

As pointed out above, the cheats would all have been in the catchment areas of other local OFSTED outstanding schools but they've all had only one school in their sights and done whatever it takes to get that place.

My personal experience has led me to the conclusion that each and every senior member of Camden Council's schools admissions team should seriously consider their personal futures in education provision.

peteneras Sun 28-Jul-13 12:50:25

”Camden Council have now changed their guidelines for next year's admissions round . . .”

Have now changed? What have they been doing in the past ten to fifteen years . . . sleeping on the job?

jojo28 Sun 28-Jul-13 12:52:07

Still trying to work out why my post has question marks instead of apostrophes?!
Yes these families are living in their rental properties and some are making a nice bit of cash by renting out their real family homes. Providing utility bills and council tax is not a problem.
I still, question why Camden considered a temporary rental used whilst 'work is being done on the family home' a valid home address for the purposes of a school application. This doesn't even satisfy Camden's useless definition of using 'the address at which the child usually lives and from which they travel to and from school.'

firawla Sun 28-Jul-13 13:04:59

That rule is hard to enforce though really, what about those who want to sell up but can't get a buyer, so they do move into rental and rent out their previous house - it's not that rare??

tethersend Sun 28-Jul-13 13:06:57

This will address the symptoms of the problem, but not the problem itself. As long as schools continue to use distance as a tie-breaker, there will be the problem of richer families buying or renting property near the school, thus pushing up house prices as the school gets a reputation of having a middle-class intake.

I am in favour of catchment areas with random allocation as a tie breaker instead, as I think this would certainly address the problem in many areas, particularly in London.

tethersend Sun 28-Jul-13 13:07:30

I would also like to understand how this rule affects the children of professional landlords?

INeedALieIn Sun 28-Jul-13 13:15:30

Amending the wording of the admissions policy to something more black and white will still result in some happy and others upset with the outcome. Somebody is always going to be just one house away from being offered a place and feel that this is unfair and their circumstances are a one off and so an exception should be made.

The real problem is that clearly, in far too many areas across the country, there are not enough spaces in the schools that meet the parents (or child's) needs.

This is a huge shame. Our pride and joy, about to embark on a huge step in life yet some parents are left to feel that they have failed on their child's behalf at tbe first hurdle in providing the school they hope for.

A huge shame for all involved. My sympathies go to parents on both sides of the problem.

MrsSalvoMontalbano Sun 28-Jul-13 13:26:42

Having work done on the house is an interesting one. Some friends of ours lived in a house equidistant between schools, either would have been fine. They had work done on their house which made it uninhabitable (no roof, water, floors etc). They had an exemption on their council tax as the place was uninhabitable. They rented a flat nearby, and paid council tax there. They were told very firmly by the council that their application address had to be the flat they were living and paying council tax on (further way from the two schools). So in case they were actually disadvantaged by renting...

lljkk Netherlands Sun 28-Jul-13 13:39:44

What are the economics, how much do these families spend on this subterfuge & how much do they save on school fees (if they went private instead) by renting for a year as well as hanging onto original home? And then there's removals & storage.
it does sound like a rich person's game.

Maryz Cote D'Ivoire Sun 28-Jul-13 13:48:46

Couldn't they stop this (or at least muck it up for the parents) in the long term by changing the sibling policy.

So if you stay at the same address for child one, child two gets a place (even if the boundaries change).

If you move house (or move back to your true address hmm), your subsequent children don't get a place.

It might make cheating parents think a bit.

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