Church school place fraud ?

(102 Posts)
Whydidnoonetellme Thu 01-May-14 09:08:41

We applied to a church school and were rejected on distance.

Since offers day, I have been astounded by the amount of other mums who have got places despite not meeting the strict criteria (attendance twice a month at any of 3 local churches for 2 years, as signed by the vicar, or by a church outside the local area for the same time as signed by the appropriate vicar).

At least 3 of these mums have told me verbally that while they are of that particular religion, they do not go to church regularly.

It appears that in reality, all you need is a vague interest in the church and a friendly vicar to sign off your lies.

Is this worth reporting to anyone ? Would the LA take an interest? I can not imagine the school itself wants to accuse their church or others or lying? Who could hold them to account ?

The schools admissions policy says it will investigate address fraud but mentions nothing else regarding fraud.

Any ideas ?

sunnybobs Thu 01-May-14 13:03:08

I don't know the exact law but I've just been on a Church education course where the Priests were telling us that actually asking for any form of church attendance record breaks a 2002 law? So while lots of church schools ask for it if anyone challenged it they wouldn't be on very stable ground. The only real thing you can ask for us baptismal certificate. Which is of course open to similar "fraud" though if we're going to support church schools funded by the state we also have to accept they should be open to anyone who wants a place.

DeWee Thu 01-May-14 13:06:52

I was also wondering about other services. Several churches in our area offer children's preschool services during the week, or messy church services Saturday/Sunday afternoon. I would think those would count too.

nonicknameseemsavailable Thu 01-May-14 13:11:04

our church school also has to count foreign language services held in a different church in the town which isn't normally counted towards this school if that makes sense.

I think there will always be people who will work things to suit themselves, I think there is sadly very little we can do about it.

lunar1 Thu 01-May-14 13:18:34

I think it's pretty shocking that the two closest schools to us we couldn't access as the were faith schools and we were only offered the third closest which is in special measures. Religion really shouldn't determine your standard if education.

WhosLookingAfterCourtney Thu 01-May-14 13:19:23

Why shouldn't people work things to suit themselves though?

To get job seeker's allowance you have to apply for x number of jobs, to get into this particular school you have to go to get a vicar to sign a form....

How else should the school measure if a child is sufficiently pious?

Whydidnoonetellme Thu 01-May-14 13:21:15

Thanks for the replies. I am not sure if I am going to appeal or not. Surely an independent appeal is not so with a VA school are they not on the panel??

I can't help to think that if I raised it I would become seriously disliked by the school and the church. If I could do it anonymously I would.

If their system relies on honesty then I can't see that there is anyway to prove attendance so would they have to withdraw all church places and reallocate on looked after, siblings, distance. Plus I don't know how many church places were gained and any distance info or siblings numbers...I can't see if we would have got a place even without those that have dodgy church attendance filling up spaces.

FWIW I really do believe the other mum. She is not from the UK and doesn't get our school system at all with its weird religious ties. She told she felt she would never get a place as they live x distance away and that the problem with that school is that they admit church people first!

Retropear Thu 01-May-14 13:40:59

Sorry no sympathy.

No child should be discriminated against because of how often their parents go to church.We all pay taxes and have every right to send our children to any school of our choosing.

The sooner the church are stopped from being a factor in who does or doesn't get places in schools paid for by tax payers money the better.

prh47bridge Thu 01-May-14 14:20:57

I've just been on a Church education course where the Priests were telling us that actually asking for any form of church attendance record breaks a 2002 law

The priests were talking complete and utter rubbish. The only 2002 law that is even vaguely relevant is the Education Act and that has absolutely nothing to say on the subject at all. Almost all faith schools use church attendance to give priority. That is perfectly legal.

Surely an independent appeal is not so with a VA school are they not on the panel

The appeal panel must always be independent regardless of the type of school. The panel must not include anyone connected with the school or previously connected with the school.

I can't help to think that if I raised it I would become seriously disliked by the school and the church

They should be more professional than that.

If their system relies on honesty then I can't see that there is anyway to prove attendance so would they have to withdraw all church places and reallocate

They cannot withdraw places. The appeal panel would have to work out who should have been admitted. If that gives more successful appeals than the school can handle the panel will have to decide how many to admit and choose the most deserving cases.

I don't know how many church places were gained and any distance info or siblings numbers

If you ask the school they must answer your questions. They are required to answer any question you ask (within reason) to help you prepare for your appeal.

I can't see if we would have got a place even without those that have dodgy church attendance filling up spaces

The appeal panel will have to work that out if they accept that the vicar has been signing forms incorrectly.

Sorry no sympathy

As far as I am concerned I always sympathise with anyone who has been cheated out of a place regardless of whether or not I happen to agree with the admission criteria.

We all pay taxes and have every right to send our children to any school of our choosing

No you don't. You have the right to express a preference. You do not have the right to choose.

The sooner the church are stopped from being a factor in who does or doesn't get places in schools paid for by tax payers money the better

Provided you are willing to pay the taxes needed to buy the land and buildings of all the church schools, and replace those funds currently provided by the church that is a perfectly respectable position.

tiggytape Thu 01-May-14 14:33:17

How else should the school measure if a child is sufficiently pious?

"Our church introduced cards that the Vicar has to sign at the end of each service."

This is the answer really.
If a church school insists it wants years of attendance that is fine. Some areas have dozens of parents attending just for a school place so at the very least, they should go to people who meet the criteria.

I was also wondering about other services. Several churches in our area offer children's preschool services during the week, or messy church services Saturday/Sunday afternoon. I would think those would count too.

Other services often do count but again the admissions criteria must state what counts and what doesn't and how they will measure who has complied with it. It can't just be some wishy-washy details - it has to be specific.

Sorry no sympathy.

No child should be discriminated against because of how often their parents go to church.We all pay taxes and have every right to send our children to any school of our choosing.

Whether you agree with faith criteria or the concept of church schools is a separate issue. They exist, faith criteria is perfectly legal BUT as with all criteria it must be able to be verified. Being cheated of your place by people who lie about church services is no different to losing a place to people who lie about their address. The net result is that parents should not have the ability to lie about meeting a criteria they don't really meet just to get a place that wouldn't rightfully be theirs.

PastSellByDate Thu 01-May-14 14:38:13

Our CofE school changed rules recently so that you had to attend the associated church not any Christian church - because so many people from miles away were getting in and local community weren't.

If you are close by then in reality you will have a good chance on their wait list - so ask to remain on their wait list.

It isn't fair - and frankly I think this is how parents in areas with poor schools 'work the system' - and to be honest I can't blame them - probably resort to much the same if I was in their shoes.

But I think this whole parental choice lark is a disaster from the get go. Genuinely think it far better if it was straightforward - these post-codes go to y school and those go to z school. But I suspect this was an attempt to stop the other notorious fiddle (which we are guilty of) - good or outstanding school catchments have higher house prices and therefore only those that can afford to live there (or rent there) have priority.

I've also noticed - but this could be anecdotal) that here the council seems to favour applications from home owners over applications from renters.

prh47bridge Thu 01-May-14 14:47:45

these post-codes go to y school and those go to z school

That only works if we abolish the infant class size limit, have enough school places to go round (there are severe shortages in some areas leading to a scrabble at this time of year to persuade one or more schools to open bulge classes) and the schools with available places are in the right place. It also needs all schools to be the same standard or parents not to care about standards, both of which are highly unlikely.

here the council seems to favour applications from home owners over applications from renters

That would be illegal if true. I suspect the reality is that a lot of people have used short term rents in an attempt to get places at popular schools and the council have got wise to it. The council probably has a list of rented properties known to be a source of fraudulent applications and looks very suspiciously at any application from those addresses.

tiggytape Thu 01-May-14 14:48:13

It isn't fair - and frankly I think this is how parents in areas with poor schools 'work the system'

If you want to "work the system" to get into a church school, you do as the policy requires and go to a service twice a month for 2 years. That way you legitimaely qualify so have no need to lie. No faith school ever asks for proof of actual faith only proof of performing certain actions.

I've also noticed - but this could be anecdotal) that here the council seems to favour applications from home owners over applications from renters.

That should never be true. Unless you mean that some renters get school places withdrawn where they rent in catchment just to cheat. That does happen and it is fortunate that it does else the situation would be even worse. Genuine renters and genuine homeowners are treated the same in the admissions system.

Genuinely think it far better if it was straightforward - these post-codes go to y school and those go to z school

The reason this doesn't happen is population density. Several hundred new houses can be built over 2 years in one postcode. In London, hundreds of children can live in one road (blocks of flats) let alone in one postcode! You'd end up with primary classes of 45+ or schools doing split shifts just to be able to take the 200+ pupils that were entitled to a place. Children have to be spread out where places exist and some children have to attend schools that most people don't want because there aren't enough spaces overall and because schools and housing groups aren't always near to each other.

Whydidnoonetellme Thu 01-May-14 15:25:16

Regarding waiting lists we are no 19. There is a class of 60. Last year 6 children left before sept, so we would need 3x as many this year, so not hopeful.

I think I will request the appeals details anyway. Nothing ventured nothing gained etc.

Thanks for the comments all.

frillysockmum Thu 01-May-14 18:48:12

I would be massively angry and would appeal. I would ask how they check the evidence upon which decisions are made and present details (names not needed) of people who live miles away who have told you they do not attend. Kick up a fuss and threaten embarrass them and who knows what may happen? Nothing ventured etc and if no one challenges it, it will go on and on for years

Frikadellen Thu 01-May-14 19:24:37

A parent I know who is not a church goer got her son into a church school I made a comment on how lucky she had been to get him in on distance. She replied " Oh I dont go to church but my x does" so he had got in on church attendance from dad. Perfectly legal and fair really could be the situation in some of the cases?

LIZS Thu 01-May-14 19:28:04

Presumably if you don't have the church connection and live some distance away it was an outside chance your dc would get in regardless. Can you be confident that 19 out of the 60 have not genuinely met the criteria which have placed them ahead of you ?

Whydidnoonetellme Thu 01-May-14 20:16:40

Last year, out of 60 there were about 25 church places, so I imagine if it is the same this year that 19/25 would have had to have dodgy church references. Not impossible, well the 3 families I know that have a place in this category are all dodgy, of course to my untrained eye.

Plus this is a high mobility area, lots of private schools, so one can expect about 1/3rd of people to disappear off the waiting lists too.

We are the same distance to this school as another church school we were offered a place at ironically! But, the school we were allocated is much less desirable as you would imagine. We would have been offered a fantastic state school last year, but this year it had no bulge class and next year it will also have a bulge, so we have been very unlucky. We are 21st on the list there.

I am concerned that the appeal, should I ask for one, would not be impartial. On the offer letter it says to request a form and send it in to the appeals clerk at the school? Does that sound legitimate anyone ? Would it then be sent on the LA or an impartial body? Or does the vicar just peruse it over a cup of tea ?

tiggytape Thu 01-May-14 22:06:06

All appeals are conducted by an independent panel with clear laws about their conduct and rules about what happens. You can read more about this if you look at the Admissions Appeals Code 2012.
It certainly isn't an informal chat or the school's head having the final say.

The school may arrange the appeals (some do and some get the LA to do it) but the actual appeal iteself is not an internal school procedure.

Tanith Thu 01-May-14 23:52:14

I'd always thought that faith schools used their admissions criteria to ensure children with their particular religious beliefs would be given priority.
However, there have been some upsets in our area this year and I'm surprised at some of the admissions policies. One school has no religious obligation, but specifies that siblings of children who've left the school have priority. I can't understand why that's necessary and it's no surprise to hear that the school's places were all taken under the siblings criteria this year.

I do think some faith schools are misusing their admissions privilege.

racmun Thu 01-May-14 23:58:57

This is really interesting. Round here the local church school has the requirement of (1) active involvement and (2) attendance twice a month for 2 years - but they don't take a register, no slips or anything for signing. It's completely Un policed. It's basically who brown noses the vicar most.

I was actually thinking I feel like raising it as an issue - would that be to the Office if the Dchhols adjudicator?

Also I didn't think they were allowed the active involvement element as its discriminatory - have I got this right?

prh47bridge Fri 02-May-14 00:40:12

The Schools Adjudicator deals with cases where the admission criteria are in breach of the Admissions Code so they would deal with the "active involvement" question. If it is not being implemented correctly it is up to appeal panels to sort out individual cases. You can try complaining to the LGO if it is a VA school, the EFA if it is a free school or academy but they may not want to get involved.

I am concerned that the appeal, should I ask for one, would not be impartial

As Tiggytape says, it must be impartial by law. The school is responsible for arranging appeals so the clerk (who deals with the practical arrangements) will often be someone employed by the school. But there must be a proper hearing in front of an independent panel. The members of the panel must not have any connection with the school, either currently or in the past, that would throw doubt on their impartiality.

tiggytape Fri 02-May-14 08:30:48

Yes the active involvement criteria has come up recently as unfair because it discriminates indirectly against parents who have ot work at weekends, parents who work so many hours they have no spare time to help, disabled parents who perhaps cannot help etc...
That is a matter for the Schools' Adjudicator to decide upon if you refer it.
Attendance isn't a problem in terms of making it one of the criteria but, like all criteria, it must be clear and fair. You cannot rely on parental honesty about how much they attend just as you wouldn't rely on parental honesty about addresses that were in doubt.

I'd always thought that faith schools used their admissions criteria to ensure children with their particular religious beliefs would be given priority.

No, that isn't always the case. Some faith schools reserve half their spaces for children of other or no religions. Some just ask for baptism but no church attendance. Siblings of former pupils is, I agree, a stupid policy but it is a legal one. Just as schools can now give priority to members of staff.

Whydidnoonetellme Fri 02-May-14 09:11:33

Thanks for the further comments. Really makes me want to appeal now. Even if we don't win, it is putting pressure on to force a more inclusive policy for future children (like my 2 year old!).

tiggytape Fri 02-May-14 09:47:05

It may not lead to an inclusive policy as such but any policy used should be fairly handled even if the policy itself doesn't seem fair in the 'inclusive to all' sense.

Few policies at popular schools are inclusive to all - even at non faith schools siblings from far away can push out all local children for example. At popular schools, more people get rejected than accepted so by definition they do not include everyone.

Appeals and concerns though may lead to stricter controls on ensuring that nobody can lie and say they meet the criteria if they don't. That may or may not help in terms of getting younger children a place but at least, if you don't get a place, you know it is because other people really did meet the criteria laid down rather than just lied to get above you in the queue.

PastSellByDate Fri 02-May-14 09:50:43

phr47bridge:

good point regarding surplus/ lack of places if post code system was used - In US, cities get around this by allocating places once applications are made & busing surplus students to area with spaces - school busing is provided free of charge by the City/ County or State.

Perhaps because this is a student area with high mobility - there does seem to be a trend of home owners (ourselves) getting in over renters (a friend who lived closer to the school) in the same year. Her DC transferred into the school the following year.

tiggy - the only faith requirement was a baptism certificate. At the time I applied it could be from any Christian faith - now it's just from the associated CofE church - last year faith entries dropped to <10% but the attendance of the CofE church associated with the school has now shot through the roof apparently.

Our sibling rule is limited to children presently at the school (so in theory someone applying for a Year R place could claim sibling rule if an older sibling was in Y6) - but usually it's the case that siblings are closer in age. And this is in fact where most pupils always come from - most families have 2 but quite a few families have >2 children around here.

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