School admissions still excluding poorer pupils

Some schools are continuing to covertly exclude poorer pupils by flouting the government’s admissions codes, the schools minister has confirmed.

Some breaches were so flagrant Jim Knight has now been moved to write to every local authority reminding them of their obligation to ensure schools are not operating covert admissions practices.

Since a strengthened admissions code came into force last year, the Office of School Adjudicators, which is responsible for regulating admissions, has been asked to look at 79 schools.

In some cases heads were asking parents for marriage certificates or inviting them for interviews – banned by the code. Children in care were not always given priority and parents were asked to rank their preferences.

Many of these practices are designed to covertly exclude poorer pupils, Mr Knight suspected.

He told BBC Breakfast: “It might be asking to see parents’ marriage or birth certificates, it might be as simple as interviewing them – which is a completely subjective and unfair measure.

“It might be requiring a school uniform which is prohibitively expensive. All of these things we rule out in law because we want to make sure that every parent has an equal chance of getting into popular schools.”

But the schools minister said although “some” schools are breaking the admissions code, the majority do not and nine in ten parents get their child into one of their preferred schools.

Mr Knight has now written to every local authority, informing them: “I am very concerned that formal complaints and other anecdotal evidence suggest that some local authorities and schools are not complying with the law.

“No ifs or buts – there is absolutely no excuse not to comply with the law to stamp out unfair and covert admission practices, which penalise low-income families and increase social segregation.

“It is unacceptable that children may be missing out on school places because unlawful arrangements are in place almost 12 months on from the code becoming statutory.”

The admissions code was strengthened last year in a bid to stop the best schools creaming off middle class pupils, who tend to perform better in national tests.

Under pressure from MPs, the regulations were strengthened such that schools must “comply with” rather than simply “have regard” to the code.

The Department for Children, Families and Schools has launched a new appeals process today to help parents complain when schools fail to operate a level playing field.