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 Sun 28-Jul-13 14:07:31

Camden council's admissions team is shameful in their self promotion - they have totally failed to administer fairly the admissions arrangements for Eleanor Palmer this year. As is usual in these moribund local authority departments with no accountability they have employed a barrage of empty words with which to placate the community members they have failed so predictably.
For example; this from Helen McMullen Director of Children, Schools and Families London Borough of Camden - "Again I would like to reassure you that Camden takes seriously any attempt to obtain a school place through fraudulent activity and we actively investigate all the cases we identify or are identified by the public. I hope that you are reassured that we have improved the detection of deliberately misleading applications through including the use of credit reference agencies, and that we continue to strive to identify fraudulent applications."
Of course in the end Camden council found their procedures and in particular the wording in their documents were both unclear and unfair meaning they have been unable to act in the case of the blatant cheats brought to their attention by community whistleblowers.
As if they have come to believe their own spin, the council hasn't refrained from boasting about their record in busting cheats and reassuring parents that they have fair procedures in place- perhaps reckoning that if they say it enough times it might come true? It is more likely that they are advised by their legal team not to admit their systems are unfair because of all those appeals they precipitated. Of course clarifying the wording for next year to head off a new round of strategic renters is an admission that they got it wrong this year - but they will doubtless issue another statement assuring parents " that this does not mean that the systems now in place are any less robust in the current round of applications". Oh silly me - they already have said that so it must be true!

tethersend Sun 28-Jul-13 14:11:20

Agree that more school places are needed.

A sibling policy such as you suggest Maryz is good in theory, but in practice would seriously penalise families who rent and are forced to move frequently, by rent increases, landlords selling up, or the owners moving back into the property once they have a school place wink

LondonMother Sun 28-Jul-13 14:22:21

30 years ago when we were students we rented two rooms in a house next door to Tessa Jowell and across the road from Salman Rushdie. Eleanor Palmer School was at the end of the road and had we hung on in our two rooms rather than moving to south London before having children we could have had a legitimate school place. However, I digress.

What a grim situation. I suspect that people thick-skinned and grabby enough to contemplate renting an accommodation address for the school admissions period and then moving back to the family home a street or two away will have no problem outfacing other parents when the PFB starts school. There are some grey areas here, though. I knew a family who rented a flat near our primary school. When their son was in Y5 they had a long, hard look at all the secondary schools in our area where he had some chance of getting a place and concluded that they couldn't be sure he would get into any school they were happy with. So they moved to a rented house three miles away which was next door to a good comprehensive school. They were on a direct bus route back to the old area and he was old enough to travel back and forth to the primary school on his own. They duly got the secondary place and then bought a house back in the old area which they preferred and which was cheaper. By the time he started secondary school he was once again living three miles from the school. What do people make of that?

Maryz Sun 28-Jul-13 14:49:38

Yes, that's a point tethers.

I have no idea what the answer is - apart from building more schools hmm. But I think that the only way to stop the polarisation of "good" and "bad" schools is simply to say that all children must go to the school closest to them. There would be chaos for about ten years, with some schools half empty and some schools with multistory prefabs, but I suspect in the end it might even out.

The lengths people go to to avoid having their children in "bad" schools means that those schools inevitably get worse as all the on-the-ball parents avoid them.

In Ireland it used to be simple - everyone went to their local school. Now there are more independent-from-the-Catholic-church schools we are having more and more problems like England, with some schools having only white Irish working families (who know the system and get their children's names down at birth for the "good" schools) and some schools having all immigrants (many of whom come from non-English speaking families) and non-working families.

jojo28 Sun 28-Jul-13 15:09:52

Yes it is costly - but they are renting furnished flats so not much removing involved. These people are wealthy but they are also supreme consumers. They will know that most London private schools are now about £5000 a term so you are looking at over £100 thousand for just primary school. Plus you can't just walk into most good London prep schools they are often oversubscribed too and are selective. Many of these parents still want a state education because their politics are left wing but perversely they don't want a true comprehensive education. NW London is full of this type of hypocrisy - look at David Milliband an aetheist with a good local primary school on his doorstep in Primrose Hill but low and behold a miracle his children ended up in the C of E school in Chalk Farm.

MrsSalvoMontalbano Sun 28-Jul-13 16:10:34

yes, interesting how politicos always go for faith schools - even self-confessed atheists like Nick Clegg. I would like a rule that says that barring special needs, MPs send their DC to the nearest school to their constituency home.

mummytime Sun 28-Jul-13 16:12:04

Maryz it was a bit like that when I went to school. With the result that when I was desperate not to go to my catchment secondary because I was already (a year before I started) being threatened by pupils already there.

My Mum had to go to the town Hall to request a placing in a different school. I was lucky that it was allowed.

There are very good reasons why sometimes children shouldn't go to their "local" school. I also wouldn't have allowed my eldest go to our most local school, as it is good, but not good for bright students with SEN, it is now improving. Admittedly I might well have pulled the faith card if I'd had to.

jojo28 Sun 28-Jul-13 16:27:03

Truly if I had lost put because I was the last in the queue I'd be sad but it would not be the end of the world. I got one of my school preferences and as importantly to me it is not a faith school. I also know that my child is already extremely fortunate and I have no doubt he will be happy at any Camden primary school. For me this is about people using their wealth to gain advantage in a school system that is supposed to be fair as possible. Many of my friends who have been through this with me have become very cynical and bitter from this experience. They have seen wealthy privileged people with a modicum of celebrity unfairly jump the queue and it sadly reinforces their view that it was ever thus. When you hear a Labour council tell you that life isn't fair, that rich people will always be able to subvert the system you really do despair.

jojo28 Sun 28-Jul-13 17:17:52

Can't believe that! I was tapping that into my phone as my kids were playing in fountains at Kings X I look up and who do I see.... David Miliband with his kids!

tethersend Sun 28-Jul-13 17:21:54

Could you ask him to run for leadership of the Labour Party again?

Cheers grin

jojo28 Sun 28-Jul-13 17:27:03

It would seem unfair to ask him that now, he looks really happy - off to the USA to a big pay packet !

jojo28 Sun 28-Jul-13 18:29:05

I think what they did is terribly unfair to people who have a more legitimate claim to that school place. I would also like to know why they felt their other local schools were not suitable. It would seem from what you say that they didn't mind living amongst less well off people but they didn't want their child to go to school with them!

jojo28 Sun 28-Jul-13 18:38:17

That last post was in response to London mother.

tethersend Sun 28-Jul-13 20:10:19

The thing is, in London at least, we have reached the farcical point whereby someone living three or four streets from a school can be thought of as not part of the local community confused

I think forcing people to attend their nearest school would compound the problem to be honest. This is why I'm in favour of random allocation, as it means that anyone has an equal chance of getting a place, no matter where in the catchment they live. This will eventually lead to more mixed communities as richer families stop clustering around 'good' schools and inflating house prices.

jojo28 Sun 28-Jul-13 20:50:09

I agree tether - Fiona Miller, journalist and campaigner for comprehensive education and a governor of a Camden school believes that only a lottery would stop wealthy and neurotic parents pooling around certain schools. She is however aware that this is something that has little public support.
The OECD found that the best-performing school systems tend to be those that are most equitable – they don’t segregate children academically or by virtue of where they live. It amazes me that well educated affluent people who presumably live in London because they enjoy it's diverse population turn into Daily Mail reading hysterics when it comes to their child's schooling.

Morally it's wrong...

No, morally it's wrong for schools to be so different that parents are desperate to get in one rather than another. Morally it's wrong that people are assigned to a good school or a bad school according to their address.

peteneras Sun 28-Jul-13 21:44:10

More to the point, a school is a school; how does one become 'good' and another is 'bad'?

tethersend Sun 28-Jul-13 22:04:57

Ironically, schools tend to become 'better' hmm as their intake of children from affluent families increases; which in turn, increases its popularity amongst affluent families.

Interesting about Fiona Millar's campaign... It's definitely the way forward IMO.

MGMidget Sun 28-Jul-13 23:40:37

Lijkk, they save a lot, especially if they have more than one child to educate. People near me who have done it have it all worked out. I'm reluctant to spell it out as it just encourages more people to do it but basically, by renting out their larger property and downsizing temporarily to smaller rented property it costs them little. Compare to the commitment to school fees every year for more than one child......

sashh Mon 29-Jul-13 02:32:14

Maybe the teachers should all move school every two years, maybe between 3 local schools.

So it doesn't matter that you have cheated to get into school A because in 2 years you will have all the teachers from school B and two years after that school C.

Or I think that if you have been found to have cheated your child should be removed, along with any younger siblings, even if this is in the middle of GCSEs. I think there should be a fine equivalent to the cost of the nearest private school for how ever many years your child has been at that school.

lljkk Mon 29-Jul-13 10:13:14

Would it be realistic to demand that children have to move schools if they moved out of catchment, or have to attend the school with nearest place? Wouldn't that do away with this false earned place problem?

tiggytape Mon 29-Jul-13 10:48:33

I like the common sense approach councils take (i.e. 'we won't accept a rented address unless you prove to us it is legit not vice versa') because it protects vulnerable people.

A black and white rule that says if you rent or if you move, you lose your school place would be great for punishing cheaters but what about the child whose Dad passes away and the family has to move 3 miles because they cannot afford to stay in that area?
The rules that means a council can assume cheating unless the parents prove otherwise is in fact the best protection. It lets genuine cases explain their reasons without creating loopholes for blatant cheaters to exploit. This does rely on councils assuming cheating will happen though and looking out for it - most of them do now (even Camden after this year's fiasco).

As for lotteries and nearest schools - in parts of the country like London both already happen. It doesn't help much unless all schools do it and even then it might not solve the problem.
Some people in London for example try to cheat to get to their nearest school. The problem isn't snobby parents wanting a place 3 miles away that they aren't entitled to. It is parents 800m from a school wanting a place but not getting one because there are 23 siblings and only people living 300m away can get in. School place shortages have created real worry and hysteria because not only do people have no choice of local schools but they have the real prospect of being forced to travel 16 miles a day to the school they're allocated. There needs to be more school places and new housing needs to be matched by new school places.

Lotteries can work as long as everyone is included. But they won't be - they'll still be faith and selective options, academies who have their own admissions criteria and out of area schools who don't work on the same principles.
So then you get areas where the local school selects children by random lottery but the school just over the border selects on distance and suddenly you get children who qualify for neither school (lose the lottery but too far from any other school for distance criteria)

What I do think would work is more school sharing. So the Head of excellent schools being lent to less desirable schools for months at a time. The top science teacher at the stable secondary school being lent to the school that’s had 7 teachers in as many terms. The tennis courts and PE facilities at one school being on a shared timetable with the schools nearby that have less facilities and space. This does already happen and should definitely be encouraged. Not only does it even things out in a purely logistical sense but it dampens down parental hysteria about the best teachers, best tennis courts, best Head Teacher and lessens the sense of there being winners and losers on allocation day.

jojo28 Mon 29-Jul-13 11:19:34

If people don't want a lottery then the best we can hope for is that councils and government take school fraud more seriously. It should be made clear to parents that this is not a victimless offence that it undermines the whole comprehensive school system. It should be clear to people that this is unacceptable behaviour like smoking in the cinema or talking on the phone in the car. The last school adjudicator Ian Craig suggested a national advertising campaign. Honest parents need to speak up too, we shouldn't shouldn't shy away from voicing our disapproval to friends who think they are justified in doing anything for their children. In my situation I have often been made to feel as if I am at fault for making such a fuss, for being so unseemly to criticise nice middle class parents for being dishonest and grasping. But this situation has never been about my child's school place, I am happy that I finally got one of my choices and the school is local. It is and has always been about watching people bullying other less knowledgeable, less wealthy families out of their rightful school places. I have been infuriated by their hypocrisy - talking about diversity and community whilst treading happily all over their neighbours opportunities.
Please someone explain to me how you can ever justify that but think of something more original than - I'd do anything for my kids.

tiggytape Mon 29-Jul-13 13:59:33

jojo28 - I totally agree with you. And people should report those that do this and realise the anguish it causes other people. It is far from victimless when people cheat.

The only good thing about the school place crisis is that people care about this issue more since the lack of places affects most people now. Most cheaters who get caught at application stage are caught by council checks but people who get caught at the school gates are those who've been reported by other parents (and cheaters do lose their places as a result even after their child has started at the school).

Even people not directly affected care abotu this and report it now because they have friends and family who miss out on school places and whose lives are made very difficult as a result. So I do think there's been a shift in the acceptance of this. There is now the sense that school placements are hard for everyone and therefore why should other parents accept some people jumping the queue by cheating the system? When the system was easier for the majority and there were plenty of places to go round, people turned a blind eye to it.

tethersend Mon 29-Jul-13 14:24:36

I don't think we should lose sight of the fact that those who are cheating the system are a symptom, not the problem.

The problem is that we need more school places.

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