The Big School Admissions Swindle!

(125 Posts)
jojo28 Tue 15-Oct-13 10:16:53

Eleanor Palmer's catchment area this year was 167 meters - roughly the length of Roman Abromavich's yacht and sadly for the local community the co-hort are almost as privileged.

The Evening Standard wrote an excellent article www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/london-life/revealed-the-legal-loophole-letting-pushy-parents-rent-the-best-state-school-places-8878941.html yesterday about the legal loophole parents exploit in order to bag a place at a so called 'prime primary'. I and other parents got royally screwed this year by Camden council's tacit acceptance of fraudulent applicants for Eleanor Palmer School.

Camden's current admissions criteria is one they sheepishly admit favours the well resourced and knowing.Councillor's and members of the admissions scrutiny panel wring their hands and point their fingers at their legal departments all but crying 'they made me do it!' whilst honest applicants get sent to the back of the queue. Other boroughs like Bromley, Hackney, Merton have stricter criteria in regard to address and temporary renting, unfortunately they are in the minority.

Our experience this year has made us acutely aware that this is a problem that effects parents and schools nationwide. Sadly there seems to be little will on the part of the Department of Education or the majority of council's to close this loophole and make the admission code for community schools as fair as possible. Is it time to push for a judicial review? The School's Admission Code states boldly that all council's admissions policies must 'fair clear and objective' is that your experience? Please add your anecdotes and opinions below.....

prh47bridge Tue 15-Oct-13 11:20:51

Many councils where this is a problem have procedures in place for catching parents who rent in order to get a place. They don't have to state anything explicitly in their rules. They are entitled to withdraw an offer made when the application is fraudulent or deliberately misleading. I am appalled at the attitude taken by Camden assuming this report is accurate. They can and should withdraw places awarded to any parents who have obtained them by renting temporarily.

Farewelltoarms Tue 15-Oct-13 12:14:18

I had read about this story before with interest as I know people with children there and live not too far away myself. Putting aside Camden's incompetency for a minute, it's the emotional aspect of it I just can't understand.

One of the most appealing things for me is going to our local school (and it is properly local, I can hear playground noises as I type), is that I am part of a community. If everyone knew that my child had got a place through dubious means, then I'd feel awkward and mortified every time I dropped my children off, instead of invigorated by the interactions I have on a daily basis.

The head was even against these parents. I'm so craven in my need to be liked by authority figures that we've never even had an authorised day off school so I can't begin to understand how the relationship between the head and these parents could ever work. I wonder if the families will regret what they've done and eventually move their children.

Going back to Camden, I know of at least three families who've rented near Camden Girls with no repercussions. And at least that number near Fortismere in Haringay. If I heard of it in time, I think I'd now shop them, not that it seems as if it would do much good.

soundevenfruity Tue 15-Oct-13 12:30:32

Got chatting to a mother who lives in another borough not far from a very good church school. The distance for non church goers is minuscule so they were doing a foundation place but even for those they were right on the edge of last year catchment area. Even though the rules state that place at the nursery doesn't guarantee anything she was told that without it she could forget about a place in reception. So they moved him to the school nursery even though hours were inconvenient. Then she helped at the school nursery twice a week and they gave donations to the school. And voila! They got enough points to earn a place in reception.

Erebus Tue 15-Oct-13 12:31:05

No, Farewell, I would doubt, not for a second, that such parents would give a pygmies about the 'morality' of what they've done; the 'system' allows them, legally, to game it, so they do.

They do not care necessarily about 'the relationship' between themselves and the Head, they care about a level 6 SATS result. And, it could be argued that under some circumstances the Head is rather pleased to have a school at least half full of wealthy, MC, school-ready DC who will make their results look great.

You don't see many Heads of 'super-selective' grammars campaigning vociferously to find ways of making the 11+ transparent and fair; they often want the offspring of savvy, sharp-elbowed parents willing to do whatever it takes to get their DC in; ditto many religious based schools.

My cards on the table? I rented in the catchment of the school I wanted DS to go to in order to secure his place; however it was our only home (in the UK) and we have subsequently sold abroad to buy locally so we would still 'get in' in this house as we did in the renter. I am a bit grateful for the fact there is a way for me to 'buy' my DSs a good education without 'fair banding', lotteries etc. We are in leafy Hampshire, not London, but we couldn't afford private. And yes, I know of the 'ghost' renters- the town-house we rented was actually the 'insurance' home for its owners to get their own DC into the desirable school, come the day as their much bigger, nicer house was outside the catchment but they were dobbed by someone!!

But I entirely understand that I wouldn't feel that way if I was a loser in the system!

jojo28 Tue 15-Oct-13 12:42:07

Well despite two families moving back to their real homes over the summer holidays and the head teacher reporting this to the admissions team the council maintain that legally the parents applications are still valid. I think I speak for most of the parents who were affected by Camden's maladministration this year in saying we are not interested in seeing school places removed. It is too late for that and we would not wish the children involved who through no fault of their own would be effected adversly. We are more interested in preventing this from happening as frequently as it does and raising awareness about how this type of behaviour undermines the whole school system not just the individual honest applicants who lose out year after year.

justadad4 Tue 15-Oct-13 13:15:06

People who do this are not part of the local community because they have no qualms about stealing school places from their neighbours.

I know Eleanor Palmer school and it has become a state run prep school for the middle class. To see this you only have to compare its racial mix, number of free-school-meal places etc. with other local primaries and Camden's general population.

The headteacher pays lip-service to the problem but does nothing to discourage it. She would rather have the children of minor celebs attending the school than those of real locals.

prh47bridge Tue 15-Oct-13 13:23:51

It is too late for that

Actually it isn't, at least in terms of the law. Camden is entitled to remove places obtained in this way at least until Christmas. However I agree it would have been far better if the offers had been withdrawn before the start of term.

TPFamily Tue 15-Oct-13 13:47:13

What is so frustrating is the fact that there is so much noise being made about this issue via so many platforms yet the council flatly refuses to acknowledge what the local community is saying, let alone enter into a public dialogue which addresses this on-going problem.

I'm glad that the Evening Standard have picked up the story, highlighting it further, but where is the response? I'd like to hear from the council and from the people who have worked the system in the way described.

You know who you are. Defend your actions.

And I don't mean people like Erebus who rent near a good school to secure a place but have NO OTHER ADDRESS IN THE LOCAL AREA, I mean the people whose actual, mortgaged (or not) homes are only a couple of streets further away from their temporary addresses.

These are the people who cause division in local communities and the council gives tacit legitimacy to their actions. The councillors hide behind faceless bureaucracy, and the parents who've worked the system think they've done nothing wrong and are only doing the best for their kids.

Let's hear from some of them for a change, not just the outraged families who've had their kids' places at their local schools usurped. We can probably expect to wait for a very long time before we hear anything though!

Farewelltoarms Tue 15-Oct-13 14:06:34

I think to be fair to the head of EP it does sound like she supported the families who'd missed out on a place rather than those who'd got one dubiously, but I could be wrong.

I completely agree that people who do this have no sense of community, but I'd expect them to have a sense of shame. Not shame in having done the wrong thing morally, but social shame, the shame of being aware that everyone knows who you are, what you have done and are judging you because of it. I wouldn't do what they've done in the first place, but had I done so, I'd really worry that my child's time at school would be compromised as a consequence. Schools are really gossipy places. I'd worry that the lack of playdate/party invitations was perhaps a result of my dishonesty.

And jeez, is EP really so bloody marvellous? I'm sure it's a great school, but really if these parents would just put a bit of their evidently considerable efforts and energies into supporting their child, then I'm sure their SATs results would be the same.

soundevenfruity Tue 15-Oct-13 14:17:10

OMG, Farewelltoarms, is it really so??? Parents annoyed that somebody got in "the wrong way" would boycott their child? That's dreadful. So much for community spirit.
Disclaimer: not renting, just strategically placing schools on the form hoping for the best. Or going private until year 2 when everybody just moves into shires.

Farewelltoarms Tue 15-Oct-13 14:37:02

I'm not saying that people would boycott a child from a party because of it, I'm saying that if I were the swindling parent I might feel paranoid that this was the case.

I don't think any other parents would punish the child directly. But it might subconsciously influence them in their behaviour. If my best friend's kid failed to get a place in the school, and I knew someone else had led to this directly, then I might find myself less inclined to encourage a friendship between our children even without thinking it through. The 10 children who didn't get places had been in the nursery so some strong friendships had probably already been made.

Whether or not there is any changed behaviour towards the interlopers is almost irrelevant, it's the perception that there might be that would compromise my experience of the school as a parent. It all just leaves such a sour taste about something, a child's first few years in school, that should be so sweet.

Erebus Tue 15-Oct-13 14:41:23

Whilst the 'boycotting' thing doesn't sound 'nice', sound, I think one might ponder that why is it acceptable for a DC to entirely benefit from their family's duplicity, their wielding of wealth or power, to the very real detriment and loss of another DC's chances, but it's considered completely unacceptable for a DC to have to live by the undesirable consequences of a parent's behaviour?

It's like it's completely OK for the DC to reap the positive rewards of this gamesmanship but god forbid, cop any of the fallout. The child has benefited by being a full paid-up member of that family but should be treated like a neutral, innocent bystander once the family gets what it wants.

This, surely, is the 'social penalty'.

I am not 'condoning' excluding a DC, incidentally, merely pondering that life lesson about actions having consequences, this being the real world etc, one where a genuine school applicant has lost their place and thus may be enduring quite a negative experience as a result!

soundevenfruity Tue 15-Oct-13 15:20:24

Consequences should address the behaviour of a particular person because you want them to be responsible for their behaviour. How punishing 4 year old would work in this situation? How could they influence their parents? I think it's sinister to make children responsible for their parents.

soundevenfruity Tue 15-Oct-13 15:21:52

It absolutely doesn't matter how you call boycotting. Social penalty doesn't make it more palatable.

PennyHerrzell Tue 15-Oct-13 15:33:33

Is there any appetite for campaigning for the "over half of London boroughs, 16 in total, which do not have a rule against “additional renting” in their admissions code", to get something in the pan London admissions arrangements for the coming year?

Are there any Council news departments following this link? Here is something easy and community pleasing to do - it will cost nothing to change the wording and will send a strong message to parents that this is behaviour is unfair and unacceptable.

Erebus Tue 15-Oct-13 15:34:40

Indeed, the true 'consequence' would be that DC being kicked out of the school. A bit of 'party-invite oversight' might be considered a lesser evil.

As someone else said, maybe it wouldn't be blatant- it might just be that a 'legitimate' parent didn't particularly want her DC to mix with the DC of parents who had the personality type that didn't bat an eyelid at such behaviour? Is that 'sinister' or sensible?

FWIW I've read outrage here on MN in the past at the suggestion that a poor little DC should have their school place taken from there, however dodgy their means of obtaining it as it'd be so unfair on that DC... never mind how unfair it might be on the DC who lost out on what should have been their legitimate place as a result! This behaviour isn't a victimless crime.

KentishThyme Tue 15-Oct-13 15:55:52

I'm not for punishing the children.
But I don't see the problem with the child losing their place should their parent's deception be discovered.
Kids are adaptable and non-judgmental to new situations. The 10 EP nursery children who had to find new schools are a fine testament to this.
As a parent you are responsible for the happiness and well-being of your children at this age. Knowing that they will have their place taken away if you cheat should surely be the ultimate deterrent?
A couple of the cheating families relinquished places at an equally outstanding school nearby. They would have legitimately been in the catchment area for this school from their 'real' homes. How simple life would have been! Ironically none of the kids they have stepped over ever had this school as an option as they live 100 metres too close to EP.
These families weren't bothered about our kids losing their school places, so I don't see why I should be concerned about them losing theirs.

soundevenfruity Tue 15-Oct-13 16:23:23

I am talking about excluding a child from normal activities because you do not approve of what their parents did.

tiggytape Tue 15-Oct-13 16:33:48

nicer house was outside the catchment but they were dobbed by someone!!

Good. As prh says, it is so much easier all round if they lose their places before allocations day (i.e. the council put a big cross through their rented address and fill in the mortgaged address instead) or if they lose it at the start of term - but if they have to lose the place later then so be it.

As for social exclusion - I have heard of this but not as a revenge tactic more solidarity for their friends who have lost out to cheaters and the upset they've seen it cause.
If all the children living in the same road and going to the same pre school get an Infants' place except one then that's just bad luck / big birth year etc. But if they find out a parent in the new Infants' class rented to get that place before moving away again, they are likely to be very very angery about it. All over summer they would have seen at least one friend devestated by not getting a place and maybe going through appeals or waiting on a list and checking their position every week. The child of the cheaters in not to blame but is hardly likely to be included in the playdates and parties.

tiggytape Tue 15-Oct-13 16:37:35

And I agree about losing the places too in terms of disruption to the child of the cheating parents. It is very upsetting for a child to be kicked out of a school they love and it is very upsetting for a child to be related to people that all the other parents are furious with. But if you cheat to get a place you are setting your child up to be that child - the one who could get made to leave their new school at Christmas or the one who other parents are indirectly angry with.

PennyHerrzell Tue 15-Oct-13 16:47:44

Well done to Joshi Hermann and the Evening Standard for an excellent piece.

How annoying that the parents who did this could not be named and shamed. Rumour has it they didn't want their kids exposed to any media attention so they preemptively called the PCC.

The important thing is to ensure that this loophole is closed in every London borough. I have already heard of three people organising themselves into rentals close to their preferred school for next year's round. Could the next headline please be "Admissions authority bureaucrats finally get something right"? Newsworthy indeed.

Primafacie Tue 15-Oct-13 17:36:57

OP I generally agree with you, but I would point out that some of the boroughs you mention as having better policies in fact have similar issues. I live in Merton, and this near our nearest school's catchment was less than 120 metres because parents use temporary renting to get in. This year they had well over 400 applications for less than 10 non-sibling places, which I think makes them more "selective" than any private school.

Unsurprisingly, we were not offered a place in any local state school -although they did offer us a place at a school in a different town 3 miles away, with no transport arrangement. hmm

DH and I have campaigned with our MP, local authority, planning authority and local councillor for education to get the admission arrangements changed, but there doesn't seem to be any real will to introduce meaningful change - by which I mean not only expanding some schools, but also putting a stop to the "grandfathering" system (i.e. out of catchment siblings having priority over in-catchment non-siblings).

I think this system is deeply flawed, morally wrong and economically indefensible, and leads to erosion of our community.

PatPig Tue 15-Oct-13 17:52:52

meh the whole system is bollocks. It costs well over a million quid to buy a house in catchment of this school.

Am I supposed to shed a tear for these poor deprived parents?

Erebus Tue 15-Oct-13 17:53:18

IMHO- I actually believe that a DC should have to leave a school at the end of that KS if their parents move out of catchment if the people who buy their place want the school place. That way DCs stay local to their schools- and the moving DC gets a place in their new local school, too.

Whilst some ^^ might cry 'Unfair!' on the poor DC, the reality is that parents would be far less likely to attempt catchment stunts if they knew the consequences. A bit of missing out on parties isn't going to be enough to deter them really, is it? A possible saving of 7 years x £4-8k per year?

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