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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 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.....

Farewelltoarms Fri 18-Oct-13 15:41:11

They're not oversubscribed - those figures include those who have put it anywhere on their submissions list i.e. they were all non-first choices.

JustAnotherUserName Fri 18-Oct-13 15:41:53

That doesn't mean - although I know nothing about Camden - that as a whole the borough doesn't have enough places.

If a (hypothetical) borough has 6 schools of 30 places each, and 180 children, then each child will apply to all 6 of those schools and you would get figures such as:

School A, 180 applicants for 30 places.
School B, 180 applicants for 30 places.
School C, 180 applicants for 30 places.
School D, 180 applicants for 30 places.
School E, 180 applicants for 30 places.
School F, 180 applicants for 30 places.

So every school is oversubscribed by a factor of 6, but every child gets a place at one of their preferred schools!

JustAnotherUserName Fri 18-Oct-13 15:53:25

and of course only one of those schools might be desirable for the middle classes good

Shootingatpigeons Fri 18-Oct-13 19:59:57

The FM link was good. She is absolutely right, it is about least worst scenario and I firmly believe that at least with selection on distance no 4 year old is faced with a journey that has a negative impact on their life simply because of their parents faith, or willingness to go through the motions. She is also right that what works for a rural area does not work in inner cities but that faith schools are more of a vehicle of social exclusion than distance was shown by the Guardians analysis

“76% of Catholic primaries and 65% of Catholic secondaries have a smaller proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals than is representative of their postcode This is the case for 63.5% of Church of England primaries and 40% of Church of England secondaries. Non-religious primaries and secondaries are far more likely to mirror the proportion of poor pupils in their postcode – just 47% of non-faith primaries and 29% of non-faith secondaries take a smaller proportion of free school meals than is representative for their postcode.”

In our borough 7 out of the 10 primary schools with the lowest % FSM are faith schools and 9 out of the 10 with the highest are community schools. The FSM data here

Wilfer Fri 18-Oct-13 21:04:51

Thanks to OP for highlighting this. My own London borough is one if the offending ones which makes no attempt to challenge dubious rental activity. I know of a family who rented out their house to move closer to their preferred school AFTER the allocations date and who were issued a place quite early on off the waiting list. I queried this with the council admissions team because my child was very close to the top of the list but moved down as a result of this admission.
Their answer was that they are not required to look any further than whether the family were paying council tax at the new address. The fact that the family still owned a property which they had rented out was not deemed relevant. I asked them whether there was anything to stop me doing something similar and their reply was that there wasn't , but I should be sure to move close by in case someone else 'overtook' us on the waiting list!

They told me that they only look for evidence of registration for council tax and that there is an actual change of address. Whether this is permanent or temporary is not checked in any way.

My child didn't get a place at our preferred school and remains on the waiting list, though I have little hope now that she will be able to move.

I've since heard of several families (not this year ) renting in catchment in my borough so I'm pretty sure it must be a known problem. However it seems that the council admissions team are simply not interested in tackling this.

I can't believe it would be that difficult to do something. Surely the council could ask for a bit more evidence to identify house owners who move to tenancies which seem to have no purpose other than to game the system?

soundevenfruity Fri 18-Oct-13 21:53:32

I am not quite sure what Guardian is implying? That poor people don't go to
church? Or that they are more reluctant to take / unaware of advantage it would give them to get into a good school?

Shootingatpigeons Fri 18-Oct-13 22:17:39

Statistics manifest things rather than implying, though of course they can be manipulated but a healthy does of common sense in interpreting them doesn't come amiss. At a rough guess, awareness of selection criteria is an advantage, then of course the ability to meet them. So if you come from a country where baptism at 6/12 months is not the custom (a common selection criteria in Catholic Schools) then you are at a disadvantage, add in that if for illness or for reasons of gathering family from disparate places it gets delayed. Then of course there is the increased difficulty of getting to church every week where a single or both parents work long hours / shifts / weekends / or are just struggling to cope. My mother taught pupils whose mothers struggled to get the clothes washed (one of her signposts to disadvantage and the need for help). No danger of those children in an oversubscribed faith school....

tethersend Fri 18-Oct-13 22:45:16

I live in Tower Hamlets, who last year introduced defined catchment areas.

In catchment siblings and in-catchment children now take priority over out of catchment siblings; the tie breaker is those furthest from an alternative school.

VERY complicated, but seemingly very effective- I say that as someone who lives on the border of two catchment areas; effectively putting us out of catchment for our nearest schools. We were then able to apply for a school we had not considered, and got a place. It's great. Tower Hamlets, like Camden, has many very good schools.

I would have liked to see the tie breaker being random allocation rather than furthest alternative school, but I don't think LEAs can use this as the main tie breaker? (Correct me if I'm wrong)

It's explained here much more clearly.

GreenEggsAndNaiceHam Fri 18-Oct-13 23:54:51

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

PatPig Sat 19-Oct-13 00:23:22

SDhopeful you need to look at

"Furthest child offered on the offer date in miles"

In 2011 and 2012, these schools in Camden were undersubscribed (fewer parents placed the school higher on their preference list than all other schools that they didn't get in to):

Our Lady's
St Alban's
St Aloysius Infants
St Dominic's (2012 only)
St Michael's Camden Town
St Patrick's (2012 only)

Some of the other religious schools may also have been effectively undersubscribed, it's not clear. But it looks like around 2 applicants (preferences) per place is the cut off - less than that and everyone can get that school, higher than that and there will be a catchment area.

In terms of 'local schools for local people', within one mile of Eleanor Palmer, you could definitely get into:


and possibly St Dominic's and St Patrick's

jojo28 Sat 19-Oct-13 10:02:16

Seeing that you are so fascinated in my personal circumstances, perhaps looking for a way to justify not an immoral choice of feigning religion but I would say a hypocritical, cowardly and fearful choice, lets talk specifics:

1.My assumption that my second child would get a place into Eleanor Palmer was not fanciful. It was based on what the head teacher and secretary were telling myself and other parents when we were attending the nursery. Unknown to us they had not factored in the fact that the nursery charge and parents renting temporarily to get a school place had skewed the numbers.
2.My first child did get into Eleanor Palmer and was there for 5 years. He struggled academically for the entire time and in my opinion with the exception of one teacher he was not supported properly. He had a very low opinion of his abilities and poor confidence. The school kept shifting the blame on to him and in year 4 he did not go up by the required number of levels and I was not informed of this. In year 5 we tried to get the school to put him into ‘school action’ but they were not happy to do that even though they were predicting he would not leave year 6 with the expected levels. We had him assessed by an Ed Psych who discovered he had dyslexia and processing problems. The schools response was still to refuse extra help, as he was not considered to be deserving enough. We decided to put him in a private school called the Academy in Hampstead with classes of 15 and purporting to be good for children with learning difficulties. It was a disaster! Mainly because my child and my family do like diversity and you do not get that in a private school and it became clear that the school had little idea about how to deal with a child with Dyslexia.
3.My eldest is now at Acland Burghley our local comprehensive and is extremely happy and thriving.
4.My heart was not set on EP because of our experience there but when you fill the form in you have to put in order what are your best chances and because we do live extremely closely to EP it kind of screws our chances for other local schools. We fall outside the catchment for Torriano, Kentish Town (which I would not want because I am an atheist) and Tufnell Park. Plus it was easy - my childcare and local friendships were based around a school I have been involved with for the past 9 years. Sure enough we got offered a place at Brecknock School on York way, not really local but not awful either and we were very impressed by the school’s ethos and parents and were prepared to make it work. However we got offered a place at Tufnell Park at the last minute, which was one of our original choices. It is a wonderful school, we can walk there and other children on our street attend. After the initial settling in period my son is very happy and we feel very lucky to have bagged a place at a great school.
5.My fury has never been about my son not getting a place at EP. It is about the parents and the system that undermines the state school system for all of us through apathy, neuroticism and lets face it snobbery. It is about the hypocrisy of parents and politicians and civil servants who bang on about fairness, community and diversity but choose not to champion it in their personal lives or work life. And yes I am furious that my good friends have to walk past people who gamed the system as they jump on a bus to the school that so many of those parents turned their noses up at, even though it was their local school.

So GreenEggsAnd NaiceHam put your cards on the table, how do you know so much about my personal circumstances? And why did you feel you had to attend church to get your child into a particular school? What was your nearest school and why was it not acceptable? Are you trying to defend your friends who rented temporarily to get into EP? Direct message me let’s talk I have nothing to hide. I could introduce you to some of the parents who didn't get their siblings into Kentish Town Primary because you felt there was nothing wrong with pretending to do god.

GreenEggsAndNaiceHam Sat 19-Oct-13 10:36:01

My nearest school is Eleanor Palmer. We knew we had no chance of getting into ANY local schools, and stood the real chance of getting no school at all as did children at our childs nursery. We could not keep our child at nursery for the reception year as she is too old and legally needs to be at school.

The Schools Adjudicator says that they don't care what is in peoples hearts, so I don't see why you should. I have never pretended to "do God", I followed the admissions criteria to t he letter. As did many other people who live on my street who are in the same situation as me, first or only children, whose nearest school is Eleanor Palmer, but who stood no chance of getting this or any other community school. I would have loved TP but even with the extra 15 children we are still al long way down the waiting list. I would imagine this is because a lot of parents have moved to near Yerbury, pushing YErbury parents to TP, a lot of Yerbury nursery kids didn't get a reception place there.

The head at EP shouldn't have told you that you had a reception place. I know people who could have had an EP nursery place but didn't apply, or take it up because it was too expensive, or didn't provice the hours of childcare they needed. The problem was it was the first year parents had to pay and no one really thought of the implications

I didn't want my child to go to Carlton or Brecknock as they are not our local schools. When we went for a look around I was met by "lovely" middle class parents who were quite happy with the schools because they could go private if it all went pear shaped; or their children were bumped up a year because they were surgeons; or they were rude and arrogant; or they felt that primary school doesnt matter anyway and they lived close enough to get into CSG. I am not rich or middle class and I do think that primary school is important. I have a perfectly good socially mixed school on my doorstep, that is no more into God than any other Community school, why shouldn't my child go there? The admissions criteria were really clear and could have been read by the parents whose children attended the nursery; who I am afraid have been "screwed over" by the school for their poor planning. THe school could have worked out that by lowering their intake and putting siblings low down the admission list in a high birth rate year that siblings would not get in.

Why on a previous thread have you said that your first son did not get his first choice of school on admissions day? I assumed where you lived that your first choice would have been Eleanor Palmer. I don't understand why you didn't know that people have cheated for years, you must know EP isn't really a local school. The child currently in YEar 1 should probably not keep their place, I don't understand why they have, unless there is more than one of them. (Parents not living together)

I am really cross with you as you are lumping the KT and EP thing together when they are totally seperate. I am on your side. I don'tt actually want my child to go to EP, I think it is snobby and elitist and isn't any London that I know (and yes, I am from London). I am fed up of watching children get off the bus, tube and train and walk past my house because they have the luxury of having an older sibling who once (for a month or two) lived near EP. HOwever I would have liked my ONLY child to have the chance of gettting into a local community school.

Other people on this post are aware of the hell I went through this year with Camden. I am not sure I have the strength to fight them, life is too short, mine certainly is. But I wouldn't mind giving it a go with a bright person like you in tow, but not if you continue to miss the point.

Right, I have work to do.

GreenEggsAndNaiceHam Sat 19-Oct-13 10:39:20

I seem to recall we are 260 m from EP, and we are over 20 on the waiting list for that, TP and Torriano.

Levantine Sat 19-Oct-13 12:39:24

I have been reading this with interest because it mirrors my experience in a London borough I used to live in. But could someone please explain to me how a state primary (eleanor palmer) can charge for its nursery? I have never heard of that before. Have I misunderstood something?

TPFamily Sat 19-Oct-13 17:31:12

I don't know how a state primary got away with charging for nursery but they did. I find it hard to believe that the cost of paying for nursery put many people off as it was a damn sight cheaper to send our eldest to full time nursery at EP than it was for two half days a week with a decent childminder.

We live 186m from EP and lost out on a reception place due to the issue being discussed in this thread and ended up at Brecknock, a school we didn't include on our choices as, get this, there are 6 schools which are closer. As it goes, Brecknock is a great school and we are getting as involved in the PTA and the school as possible, and arguably it could even be considered local. But when there are so many more schools so much closer it does seem ridiculous not to have been offered a place at one of them. If nobody had played the system it wouldn't be an issue. Then it would just be the wider problem of not enough schools and that's another argument. But knowing that people have played the system creates anger and tension among the community.

And that's what is at the heart of this issue - community. People who play the system in this way do not represent the community, or if they do, it's the worst elements of it - snobbery, elitism, one-upmanship, call it what you like but it's divisive and dishonest.

We're totally happy with the school we were eventually allocated and if people simply applied for their local schools without trying to play the system there would be a much more diverse demographic represented in all local schools, and schools like EP, which despite what people may label it as, is still a great school run by great staff, would not be so ruthlessly targeted by the well to do champagne socialist media professionals and minor celebrities so eager to prove their right on credentials by sending their darling offspring to a state primary, while knowingly doing some other child out of their rightful place.

Going to church to try and secure a place in a faith school is also dishonest, whatever people think. If you don't believe in it, don't go to church.

Everything about this issue is rotten. Because "everyone does it" doesn't make it right. MPs weren't doing anything wrong (i.e. not allowed within the rules) when they were claiming ridiculous/over-inflated/fictitious expenses. The rules changed and MPs were publicly shamed and had to re-pay their ill-gotten expenses. When will local councils pay attention to what the community is saying and change the rules about temporary renting?

jojo28 Sat 19-Oct-13 20:19:56

GreenEggsAnd NaiceHam, you are missing the point – and that is one of fairness. The Eleanor Palmer & Kentish Town admissions problems are not separate as they both illustrate how the admission codes high minded principles of fairness, clarity and objectivity are not mirrored in peoples experience of the process in reality. Both are examples of how the admissions system in this country favours the knowing, well resourced and dishonest. You may have no qualms in attending church to get your child into a school but for me and many other parents it is anathema and so we are in effect excluded. The schools adjudicator may say it doesn't matter what is in your heart, but how easy would it be to sit in a church in a hijab or a turban or a yarmulke! How can you say that is fair? Some of those nursery parents did read the admissions criteria & understood it clearly but knew that they could not fulfill it because of their deeply held beliefs and morals.

Furthermore I may have had problems with EP but it is still a great school and despite popular belief to the contrary the majority of year 6 children do go on to local state secondary schools. This may change in the future – who knows.

I remember meeting you that day at Brecknock and I am sad that you thought so little of the parents you met. My memory is completely different, I met confident parents with high moral principles who were doing their utmost to contribute and support their local school. It is theses parents and that of my friend Tim, whose children attend Carlton and are very happy there, who are my inspiration. If there were more parents like that the education system would be in far better shape and our communities would all be stronger.

pollycurtis Sat 19-Oct-13 21:11:23

GreenEggsAndNaiceHam I'm so sorry you got that impression when you visited Brecknock. I'm not sure if we have met but I wanted to say from my personal point of view (my daughter is at the school) it is really hurtful to see the school portrayed in that light. It couldn't be further from the truth. The school is by no means perfect - no school is - but academically it is improving rapidly against the odds and equally importantly it is a very special community that is truly diverse and inclusive. My daughter loves going to school and feels part of something in a way that I think has made her feel very secure and motivated. I'm very proud she is there. I'm not sure how your situation has resolved but I do hope it's working out.

GreenEggsAndNaiceHam Sun 20-Oct-13 12:35:07

Well Jojo, I think we agree on some points and not on others. We have very different ways of trying to make changes in the areas we perceive to be wrong. It's good we have both managed to make some changes though although mine have been a bit more under the radar than yours.

Did you take the matter of the illegal rentings up with the Local Government Ombudsman? As from everything I understand the rentings should not have given the children a place under admissions law; there is no legal loop hole, just a council unwilling to act on the law?

As for "fairness", although I see your point, I have always been taught that " fairness" is a subjective, rather than objective; what is fair for you may not be fair for me. I am more interested in equality, either of outcome or of opportunity.

I can't say I am a big fan of " choice" in Government policy.

It's probably confusing for people to read this part of the thread, as a lot of information has been going on in the local press, and the Soft play and playgrounds of nW Lond

GreenEggsAndNaiceHam Sun 20-Oct-13 12:41:52

London. It's been interesting to read the press, and see things that I know are biased and sometimes completely untrue. It's made me re evaluate every story I read, something I should have been doing anyway.

I'm glad that Brecknock is working out for people. I liked the school, I just found some of parents I met there a bit out of touch , I've been there on many occasions Jojo, they all gt mixed up in my mind.

jojo28 Sun 20-Oct-13 14:15:03

Greeneggs interesting you say you are interested in equality. The very reason faith schools can discriminate in the way they do is because they are granted exemptions from equality laws.

PennyHerrzell Sun 20-Oct-13 19:39:07

We have laws in our society because without them, people will make their decisions based on their own subjective view of what is fair. This is precisely what happened at both EP and KT this year. The admissions authorities for both schools failed to anticipate the impact of their dysfunctional arrangements on the fair allocation of school places. In both cases some parents took advantage of the 'loopholes', and though legally complying with the published arrangements, they acted against the intended spirit of the law. None of them should be surprised that members of the community have drawn attention to their behaviour.

The existence of faith schools with their exemption from equalities legislation adds a layer of complexity because for the system to work everyone must feel as though the criteria for allocation are broadly fair, which is not the case in the Kentish Town ward.

Kentish Town has one of the highest rates of secularism in the country; over two thirds of us do NOT identify ourselves as christians, yet two of the four schools in our ward are Christian faith schools. Regular church attendance for the CofE and Catholic churches is thought to be no more than 2% of the population each. On this basis, no more than 3 places in each school would be reserved for active followers of the faith. Were this the case, the anomaly might be generally accepted, but as it stands, it provides a mechanism for gaining a school place unfairly, resulting in well documented social selection.

BranchingOut Mon 21-Oct-13 16:03:09

Am I the only person who thinks that this thread reveals way too much of some mumsnetters' personal identities and family lives?

JustAnotherUserName Mon 21-Oct-13 16:47:50

No. Me too. They clearly all know each other...

TPFamily Mon 21-Oct-13 18:35:19

That's because it's an issue that affects a community and if you're part of that community, the chances are that a discussion like this will draw in people that you know as well as people from further afield.

This issue affects communities up and down the country which is why it's good to open it up to debate on a forum like this, but it shouldn't surprise anyone if people recognise other members of their own community, especially when the initial post was specific to a particular school in a strong, close-knit north London community.

Shootingatpigeons Tue 22-Oct-13 11:58:57

In our local area a debate on a schools issue led to people coming together and meeting in RL activism, both those for and against. Not necessarily a bad thing. The democratic process then took it's course but Mumsnet definitely was an early catalyst to it and a way to raise awareness of the issues. It doesn't necessarily lead to your house being firebombed and your children bullied, although I think some dinner party chatting may have got a bit heated........

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