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 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. 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


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 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 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.

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.

LondonMother Mon 29-Jul-13 15:37:39

Belated response to Jojo's post yesterday evening - Jojo, this was many years ago now. In the case I described yesterday the family I knew weren't moving to get their child into a school with fewer poor people - the school they moved next door to was a community comprehensive, albeit a good one in a slightly posher area. Our nearest comprehensive school was in a bad state at the time. Very few of the children from our primary school went there in spite of the fact that we could all have saved ourselves a lot of angst by applying there. The other local options were polarised between the massively oversubscribed and the teetering-on-the-brink-of-special-measures. I don't think they'd have been eligible for a faith school and they couldn't afford school fees. They could have moved permanently - lots of families with children at our school did. The difference in the case I described is that they moved to get the child into his secondary school and then they moved back again. They didn't move out of a house they owned for a few months either. I see that as a much greyer area than the cases you're describing.

I know of another family where the parents had split up and the father had the children at weekends. When it came to secondary transfer time the parents agreed to put his address down as the permanent one as he lived very near what they thought was a better school than our local one. The children continued to live with their mum Monday-Friday and so were travelling 3 miles or so to their school most days. Nobody questioned it - but this was about 15 years ago. Might be different now.

tiggytape Mon 29-Jul-13 15:38:10

Well it is true - we certainly need more school places. Everyone agree on that. But as for cheating being a symptom of this: it is a bit like saying people who cheat the benefits system are a symptom of poverty not the problem or people who fiddle their taxes are the symptom of the extortionate cost of living not the problem.
Yes there are fundamental problems with school place shortages but cheating the system does not help to remedy that and, in fact, just spreads the misery much further.

If we had the American / Scottish system whereby everyone living within 1 mile of a school automatically got a place, cheating would help I suppose. People could rent a bedsit next to the school and the school would be forced to create a space for them as well as all the legitimate applicants applying from their real homes within a 1 mile radius. But we don’t have that system. We have a system whereby one person cheating directly results in another person (applying from their genuine home address) losing out on a local school place. Cheating just shifts the problem from one person to another, it doesn’t solve the bigger picture in any way at all.

tiggytape Mon 29-Jul-13 15:41:49

London Mother - the rules have changed since then. Your friends would have to use the mother's address in those circumstances not the father's. The council ow check where the children live for the majority of the time between Monday and Friday. If it is a genuine 50:50 split between two homes, the council use the child benefit address as the deciding factor.

meditrina Mon 29-Jul-13 15:43:21

Camden definitely needs more school places - they created 80 bulge class places for this September, and well over 70 of them are filled. One school with inadequate scrutiny of applications is a drop in the ocean of the problems in this part of London.

The population density in London simply wouldn't permit a fixed catchment system, and there is little land for school expansion (or new schools). It's part of the looming school place crisis there.

jojo28 Mon 29-Jul-13 15:53:21

tethersend as I mentioned before in our planning area we do have enough school places, Camden council kept telling us this! In this case the cheating was not symptomatic of under provision of reception school places. In fact the dishonest parents would have got into another outstanding Camden school from their true home addresses. I would suggest it has more to do with the idea that some parents believe they have a choice of schools when in fact they only have an opportunity to express a preference. If you apply for state schools there has to be an element of compromise on your part. We should all remind ourselves that countless studies reiterate that your child's greatest asset is their family environment and the attitudes to learning and society instilled in them at home.

jojo28 Mon 29-Jul-13 16:57:50

meditrina this is not one school with inadequate scrutiny. Community schools do not get to manage their own admissions criteria they are all administered by the local council. It is the local council that draw up their admissions criteria and their admissions teams oversea the whole process, individual schools have no hand in it. This is why in the case of Eleanor Palmer the head teachers warnings about fraudulent activity were able to be ignored. Camden's past ineffective admissions criteria will have effected the schools throughout the borough.

prh47bridge Mon 29-Jul-13 16:59:54

I should point out that the current Admissions Code says that the LA cannot use a lottery as the principle oversubscription criterion for all of its schools. Individual schools can do so but not the LA (which seems inconsistent to me). I believe the idea is that parents should be able to figure out with reasonable certainty which schools are likely to offer their child a place, which random allocation makes impossible.

Whilst I sympathise with the view expressed up thread that there should be no good or bad schools I'm afraid that is unrealistic. Inevitably some head teachers will be better than others and some teachers will be better than others. Of course we should be trying to improve the performance of underperforming schools but they will never all be the same. As long as we allow parents to express a preference there will be popular schools and unpopular schools.

meditrina Mon 29-Jul-13 17:02:47

Sorry - as the thread was about mismanagement of one named school, I thought that was the extent of the problem. Are you saying that all Camden applications are in adequately scrutinised? Much worse than I thout then.

The existence of the bulge classes (and that Camden has relied on them for some years already to provide "sufficient" places) is based on information from the Borough. Without the bulge classes, e shortfall is some 70+ places, which means that either all those school's with bulge classes need to be permanently expanded (doesn't seem to have happened, or at least size of school and 2014 admissions numbers have not yet been updated on school websites) or a new primary with 2 or 3 form entry is needed ASAP.

Farewelltoarms Mon 29-Jul-13 17:47:01

I just cannot imagine wanting my child to go to a school where other parents and the head have dobbed me to the council. Just mortifying.
Someone up above has said it's the problem that there are good and bad schools. Yes in some areas that's the case, but Camden has the highest percentage of good/outstanding schools in the country. These children would have got into a great, but less middle-class school. I'm just flabbergasted that these parents would humiliate themselves and compromise any sense of morality for a school that isn't arguably any better. Do they really have so little faith in their parenting or their children? Do they really not understand that the difference that schooling makes is pretty marginal in comparison to other factors and negligible when comparing one good/excellent state primary with another.
It's madness.
I hate this idea that 'I have to do what is best for my children' is somehow noble and excuses any poor behaviour. It's the selfish/unselfish paradox of parenting - I would sacrifice myself to help my child. But I'd also sacrifice someone else's child...

nlondondad Mon 29-Jul-13 19:11:53


But the point that has been made was that there was NOT a shortage of places in this area. The cheating behaviour was not, it seems, driven by a need to get a place, but a desire to get a place in a particular school.

There is a really good post about this sort of thing by frogs, on another thread here

(This is a bit of her post:"I think some schools get a reputation as being desirable and others as not desirable which I think has very little to do with the actual quality of the teaching and learning in the school, and everything to do with people's perceptions of the type of parents that send their children there." there is more on that thread)

Moreover I am not sure what you are getting at when you describe Camden as "relying on bulge classes" and then say there WOULD have been a shortfall without them, as if somehow bulge class places do not really exist.

Obviously Camden created the bulge classes because the demand justified it. They were created exactly to meet that demand. Conseqently, due to the bulge classes there was not a shortage of places, but a shortage of places at Eleanor Palmer.

jojo28 Mon 29-Jul-13 20:24:53

Absolutely Farewell - Eleanor Palmer is a good school but you must take into account that schools like EP have a very select intake. Their free school meal uptake is 20% - Camden's average is closer to 50%. This generally means that they have an intake of more socially advantaged children which means they don't have to deal with many of the problems that come with children who come from less socially advantaged homes. Of course the other irony is that as Pamela Sammon outlined in her report into the effectiveness of primary schools that 'while all children benefit from being in an effective school rather than an ineffective one, the consequences are markedly greater for low ability children than for high ability children. ' It has been a singularly unedifying experience to watch these families who seem to have been blessed in so many ways incapable of leaving anything on the table for perhaps the less fortunate, they absolutely have to have it all.

Tasmania Mon 29-Jul-13 20:34:39

FSM - 20% is low? Gosh, in my part of the UK, that would be seen as awfully high (here, it's more like 2-6%).

PseudoBadger Mon 29-Jul-13 20:49:15

Can I just hijack to ask a question? We live with my parents well within the catchment for a very popular primary school. We moved in in 2010 before DS was born so there is no question of us not living here long enough. However we could be provide council tax documents, utility bills etc as they are in my parents' names (except Sky). I could provide every other type of address proof eg driving licence, bank statements, child benefit. Is this likely to be a problem (would be applying for sept 15)?

PseudoBadger Mon 29-Jul-13 20:49:42

*could not provide council tax

PseudoBadger Mon 29-Jul-13 20:50:55

This is in Barnet btw.

meditrina Mon 29-Jul-13 20:57:06

"But the point that has been made was that there was NOT a shortage of places in this area"

Only because this year they were able to add 80 bulge class places, over 70 of which were taken. And there have been bulge classes in preceding years too.

There is a need for about 70 places just to end the reliance on bulge classes: and that meets only current demand - it's set to rise across London, and there is fairly large new housing development in the Camden area already underway.

To say there is "no shortfall" may be literal truth if you count permanent places and bulge class places together, but it is far from the whole truth.

jojo28 Mon 29-Jul-13 21:04:43

Do you live in Monaco tasmania! On the flip side Camden also has a very high percentage of children attending private school around 30%.

bringbackopalfruits Mon 29-Jul-13 21:12:32

This is really stressing out as we are buying a house in catchment for a fab school, but will probably move in just at the time of the application deadline. We have a flat we're renting out, and haft been renting a house for a year as no decent houses have come up. Now one has, and all being well we'll own it in two weeks. But it's a complete dump and needs months worth of work doing on it. There is no way I'm applying from where we are now as although I'd get into a perfectly fine school, it's nowhere near our new house, which is across the road from an outstanding school. I'm so worried we'll be seen as frauds as we'll probably move as close to the deadline as we possibly could!

Tasmania Mon 29-Jul-13 21:38:39

jojo28 - leafy villages with very, very expensive homes. Infant & junior schools have their own tennis courts, etc.. We're renting and looking at buying, and it's looking impossible.

jojo28 Mon 29-Jul-13 22:05:31

bringbackopalfruits - ring the admissions team now and explain the situation. If your intentions are honest then it's not a problem, the school community will see that you have settled into your new home permanently which is genuinely in the locality.

Tasmania Sun 04-Aug-13 00:58:28

P.S.: jojo28 - I just checked official figures. FSM at the junior school is only claimed by 3.6%. So... yes, Monaco does exist in England, too!

nlondondad Sun 04-Aug-13 12:50:20


You seem to have some strange (to me, anyway) view that somehow a bulge class place is not "real". Well its perfectly real for the child in it, and for the parents who got a place at the school in question.

You quoted me

"But the point that has been made was that there was NOT a shortage of places in this area"

and then you write

"Only because this year they were able to add 80 bulge class places, over 70 of which were taken."

But that still tells us, that in Camden, this year, not only were there enough places for children but a handful of vacancies..

I understand that you are concerned about next year, but this thread is concerned both with this year and the behaviour of a group of parents who gamed the system, not it seems from other posters here, because they were at risk of not having a place, but because they wanted a place at a particular school. And they have disrupted a school community to get it.

Tasmania Sun 04-Aug-13 13:41:11


I think many people are not understanding what meditrina is tryng to say. Bulge classes are seen as temporary classes. Classes that are seen as such are not necessarily catered for. That means, they can be taught in temporary and prefabricated classrooms rather than proper ones.

A school that has places for 150 entrants has to be able to accommodate them all within the existing permanent classrooms. A school that has places for 90 entrants and top this off with 60 bulge class places only has facilities to accommodate 90 entrants, really, and temporary classrooms will have to be set up to accommodate the 60 others...

The fact that the bulge classes seem to be "permanent" but nothing is done to extend schools, etc. is worrying...

tiggytape Sun 04-Aug-13 16:11:55

nlondondad - bulge classes are often added as an afterthought that is why they don't "count" when parents are deciding the feasibility of a certain address getting them a place at a certain school. Parents don't know in advance when and if bulge classes will pop up.

So if a person is inclined to cheat knowing that a certain school has virtually no spaces for non siblings and requires applicants to live very close, bulge classes won't deter them.

What normally happens is people apply in January, the council thinks "cripes" (or something else very polite I'm sure) and then rings around 10 schools and tells them they're going to have to take 30 extra pupils each and that's all there is to it.

meditrina Sun 04-Aug-13 19:51:14

It's "real" for the child in it, in that one year.

But it's not a "real" expansion of provision in the area. Unless they are of course permanently adding these places in expectation that next year's shortfall will be at same size as is years 70+ lack.

But no-one seems to have told the schools this - as their websites still give the old permanent (non-bulge ie real) numbers for admissions for he next year. How can parents use their preferences properly if admission numbers are not accurate? So, either these are permanent places, in which case parents need to be informed. Or it's not a "real" permanent provision which can be counted on to exist, and the Borough continues to face a shortfall of 70+ based on this years numbers, and (given London trend, plus new housing in those wards) probably more for the next few years.

tiggytape Sun 04-Aug-13 22:23:20

That's exactly it meditrina and if anything bulge classes can make a future child less certain of a place not more. Bulge classes don't alter future provision at all except sometimes to hinder it for children without siblings.

This is becuase each bulge class create more sibling priority than normal. If there is a bulge class in the current Year 2 and the current Year 4 for example, it means that anyone applying for next September has less chance of getting a place because there will be far more potential siblings ahead of them.

Of course, if lots of children are then left with no school place at all, bulge classes will be added but there's no guarantee which schools will be forced to accept them and how far children will be made to travel for school.

Mumzy Mon 05-Aug-13 08:52:47

I was at a meeting with health professionals who work in London schools and they said Camden gets a disproportionate number of applications for its school places from dcs living in other boroughs thus increasing the pressure. This year seems to be particularly bad for reception school places I know at dcs primary there has been a lot of unhappy parents who have failed to secure a place for siblings. I agree with Tiggy that we should scrap parental choice because in most places its no choice really and schools should be made to take a cross section of socio economic groups and abilities. Before anyone shouts this would involve bussing dcs miles to schools what do you think happens now :11 year old having to take 2 buses and a train across London to get to their school of choice . Anyway in all London boroughs rich and poor communities live side by side eg. Blackheath/lewisham/ Plumstead, Richmond/Twickenham/Hounslow, Wimbledon Village/Tooting. I went to a school which was like this and no one had to travel for more than 30 minutes on the bus.

jojo28 Tue 06-Aug-13 18:19:35

We talked about bulge classes with Camden but it causes so many ripple effects within a planning area. Just a little update on our story one of the families who rented temporarily to score a school place have already moved back to their real home.... Shameless!

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