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Admissions question - do VA schools in practice have any leeway regarding their admissions criteria?

(14 Posts)
Meita Tue 18-Mar-14 11:44:56

I understand that in theory, voluntary aided (e.g. faith) schools publish their own admission criteria, but once published and approved, they must adhere to it strictly, i.e. can't say 'we'll make an exception for you' or such.

But I have been hearing that one of the schools we have put down for DS, 'finds ways to make sure that certain people do get a place' even if they wouldn't normally. Is this possible at all? Does anyone check if a VA school applies its own criteria correctly?

I'm just wondering, really. We did put this school down but have reservations, so wouldn't be too fussed at all if not getting a place. I'm really just interested in how it works.

For instance, the school in question has a distance criterium, but it's not distance to the school which counts, but rather, distance to a defined point which is 'the centre of the parish'. The school is actually 1.5 miles away from that point, so if someone lived 1.4 miles in the other direction, i.e. 2.9 miles away from the school, they'd get a place before someone who lives directly next to the school, all else being equal; as they'd be closer to the centre. Now a friend of mine talked to the school's secretary who apparently insistently confirmed that the school would 'not let this happen' and would make sure that the child who lived next to the school would get in, rather than the child who'd have to travel nearly 3 miles. Can a school do this despite it being in contradiction to their own admissions policy? My friend thinks it must be so, as the secretary said so; whereas I think that the secretary probably was wrong.

The second example is the 'strength of faith' thing. The school 'measures' strength of faith by church attendance; you're better if you attend every week, and less good if you attend less regularly. There is a SIF regarding this, which the priest needs to sign.
Another friend is extremely religious and faithfully attends every week, always. And yet, if the school is oversubscribed within the 'every week' category, his girl might not get in, due to the distance thing. But this friend is certain that they will get a place, claiming that it has been confirmed to them by the school and the parish, that due to his strong engagement in the parish, they will make sure there is a place for her. Can they do this?

A further friend lives outside the parish and hence has only a very small, outside chance of getting in. However she has been told that her child may get a place in year 3, they would prioritise him if a space came up, or even enlarge the class to 31 for his sake. I thought that in theory, the waiting list must follow the same criteria as published in the admissions policy, hence making it impossible to bump certain 'deserving' kids up the list? Do schools in practice have more leeway than I thought?

prh47bridge Tue 18-Mar-14 11:52:43

Schools do not have the leeway to behave in this manner. They must follow their published admission criteria. They cannot make it up as they go along.

There is no direct monitoring. However, if they do admit someone incorrectly the parents of the child that should have been admitted have a very strong case for appeal.

LydiaLunches Tue 18-Mar-14 12:15:15

In DD1's reception admissions year a VA school was doing exactly this sort of thing - they now have a year of 70+ children instead of 60 and an extra teacher due to all the granted appeals!

DeWe Tue 18-Mar-14 12:22:36

I suspect you are hearing rumours or someone who doesn't know what they're talking about.

Someone I know wanted their dc to go to the local Catholic, when they attended CofE. They faithfully went to all 5 open days and made sure they spoke to the head so they were noticed. As previous applicants had said they had done to get a place.
At one of these days one of the governors apparently told them that they would consider all non-Catholics on a individual basis and he'd make sure their dc was fine.

Now I'm not certain whether my friend misunderstood, the governor was hoping for a backhander, or he was new and had been incorrectly informed. I've seen the admissions and he definitely is wrong.

So when my friend's dc got in (as others in their situation did) she's convinced that what she did got them a place, so has told others to do the same.

sittingathomewithacold Tue 18-Mar-14 13:13:45

I know that it happened at a school local to me. The Sunday morning church services are always full of parents and toddlers totting up their 2 years regular attendance, and is very oversubscribed. A friend, who was not a church goer at all, but is local and has a lot of contacts, had a word with someone and got a place (not gossip,and no jealously on my part as I had no intention of applying for the school, but I saw it happen).

Also, when they made it clear that nursery places meant nothing, and the Reception applications had to start from scratch, the school told the nursery parents not to worry, as they were just going to ignore the new rules and if you had a nursery place, then you were 100% guaranteed a Reception place.

I guess its very hard to find out out if someone did jump the queue, though.

tiggytape Tue 18-Mar-14 13:40:24

There are times when a school sets a policy and it has unintended consequences.

There was a case here a year or two ago. A church school gave priority for regular attendance over siblings. Since they'd never been oversubscribed before, it had never mattered - all siblings and all church attenders got places. That year however some siblings didn't get a place because people who sussed that they'd be a shortage of places locally decided to go to church and get it signed off every month.
The parents of siblings who lost out were furious and the school sided with them because they felt it wasn't in the spirit of the rules to go to church just to get a place I guess. Regardless of that however the school's hands are tied. They set the criteria and they have to abide by the outcome it produces even if that means nursery children don't get in, siblings don't get in, local people don't get in etc.

They cannot apply the admissions criteria and then decide they don't like the fact that some people are rejected who they'd hoped to accept.
They can change the admission criteria (with consultation) so that it doesn't happen in future years but they cannot just cherry pick applicants. Even if they decided to take more children than originally planned, they still can't hand pick which ones get those extra places since admissions law also specifies that the waiting list has to be kept in admissions order and extra places offered from the top down.

Meita Tue 18-Mar-14 17:23:35

Hm so if it does happen, then the only consequence might be having to deal with, and losing, appeals? Which could be bad in theory, but in practice, how is anyone to know that they have good grounds for an appeal? I mean, even if I happen to discover that some child got a place who should have been ranked after mine, I can't be sure, there may have been exceptional circumstances I don't know about.
But out of interest, if I were to appeal, and it turns out that a child ranked 40 according to admission policy got a place at 30 intake school,whereas the child ranked 30 did not - would then my child be granted a place, even if originally ranked 35 (so 5 others in theory in front of me, but they failed to appeal)? Or would the place now be offered to the child who just missed out, even if they didn't appeal?
What if I appeal, and it is found that the admissions policy wasn't properly adhered to, but even after revised application of the policy, my child weren't in the top 30? Would there be consequences for all other offers but not for me?

I don't even know why I care, I'm honestly just curious. We are lucky to be in the situation where we put 4 schools down, all of which we should have very good chances of getting a place, and any of which we'd be happy with. We'd only think of appealing in the unlikely event of not getting into any of them, in which case almost certainly there would have to have been a mistake somewhere.

tiggytape Tue 18-Mar-14 17:59:09

You could win an appeal if any dubious practices or errors had directly cost your child a place. If you were way down the list anyway and unaffected by this problem directly then you could not argue that it had cost you a place so therefore would not win a place on those grounds.

However, if by the time of appeal you are number 1 on the waiting list for example then obviously you could say it had cost you a place because without the exra children, your child would have had a place by then even if they weren't eligible in April.

The only proviso might be that if this situation affected a lot of children, they might not all win at appeal. If it is a large schools and dozens were wrongly denied a place, a panel may not feel able to direct that they all be offered places even though by rights they have unfairly missed out.

As for proof or discovery, normally it is word of mouth that turns these things up. You have no way of knowing if a child is adopted and higher priority for example (and that is quite right) but you can report concerns to the LA. They won't tell you any personal details but may be able to tell you that the child is in a higher admission category than you assumed just based on their address etc. For initial rounds, even though the school is VA, offers come via the council and are administered by them.

BambooBear13 Tue 18-Mar-14 20:25:31

Interesting thread. I was wondering what happens if you loose a place because someone else lied on their application / did not give a change of address to the LA even though school nursery knew they had moved house before allocations day???

prh47bridge Tue 18-Mar-14 22:05:51

If you move before offers are made most LAs give you a choice:

- stick with your original choices and use your original address for allocations

- change your choices and use your new address

If you take the second option you will be treated as a late applicant. Unless the new address is a long way from your original address it is usually better to go with the first option. Nothing wrong with that.

However, if someone has used a false address to get a place you should report this to the LA. Any place offered to them based on the false address can be withdrawn even after the child has started at school. However, if they would still have got a place had the correct address been used they are entitled to keep it.

BambooBear13 Tue 18-Mar-14 22:11:07

More a case of people applying when the process opened in August then moving to a distance away that would not get a place (cheaper area), at Xmas and not telling the LA. The LA booklet states that they should notify them of any changes etc ...

tiggytape Tue 18-Mar-14 22:20:03

Bamboo - if someone was not living at their stated address on the day applications closed (mid January for reception places) then this is more of an issue and less of a grey area.
Moving after the application deadline is a situation most LAs have a policy on so it can vary but all of them expect the address on the form to be the one the person lived at when applications closed and not just when forms were submitted.

If somebody did this and it cost you a place, you could appeal on those grounds.

BambooBear13 Tue 18-Mar-14 22:39:33

Thanks. They knew they were moving (house sold etc) so put application in early .. But poss moved just after the application deadline closed. Usual story of massively over subscribed outstanding school in urban area etc

prh47bridge Wed 19-Mar-14 00:08:16

This depends on the details. Did they move before or after the application deadline and what exactly are the LA's rules in that situation.

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