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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.?

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!

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.

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.

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 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.

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...

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 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!

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 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.

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!

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%.

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.

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

This is in Barnet btw.

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

*could not provide council tax

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)?

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%).

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.

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.

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...

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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