Education & Family

Popular schools make parents face 'oversubscription criteria'

primary pupils Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption There is a well-known link between education attainment and social advantage

The most socially selective schools in England are making parents jump through numerous hoops in order to get places for their children, a report suggests.

The Sutton Trust charity's research found the 100 most socially selective schools used up to 18 categories to decide on oversubscribed places.

These schools tend to be faith-based, with religious families coming from higher social groups, it added.

Researchers compared the social make-up of schools with their local areas.

They identified the schools with the greatest difference between rates of free school meal pupils in schools and in their surrounding neighbourhood.

'Inequalities exacerbated'

Socially selective schools are defined as those which have free school meal rates much lower than the population in their localities.

They were almost all in urban areas where it is possible for children to walk to a number of schools.

The report said: "The most socially selective primary schools tend to use more complex oversubscription criteria than the typical primary school, which uses about five criteria.

"In our close examination of the 100 most socially selective primary schools we find as many as 18 oversubscription criteria used in one school and several instances where the school appears to contravene the admissions code.

"In these schools, oversubscription criteria are often faith-based, with governing bodies taking the final decision on admissions.

"This gives greater choice of schools to church-going families, but this also exacerbates inequalities in choice because those families are more likely to be of a higher social class."

Church attendance

Here oversubscription criteria are often applied on the basis of the scale of parents' religious practice, most notably the frequency of church attendance.

It particularly highlights Catholic primary schools as particularly socially selective when compared to that of their local area.

This is because oversubscribed Catholic schools will often select pupils only on the basis of faith, whereas Church of England schools will include a quota of pupils from non-religious families.

But the Catholic Education Service said its schools were the most ethnically and socially diverse in the country and in general had catchment areas 10 times larger than the average school.

"What's more, because of the high standards achieved by Catholic schools they are extremely popular with parents of all faiths and none.

"We do however, welcome the report's recommendations that religious admissions criteria should be simple, consistent and properly enforced," it said.

The report added that the relationship between school Ofsted ratings and social selectivity was predictable, with schools with a higher proportion of wealthier pupils likely to do better.

'By stealth'

It said: "We classify 13% of Ofsted's 'outstanding' schools as socially selective, compared to 7% of 'requires improvement' schools and 65% of 'inadequate' schools."

The Department for Education spokesman said: "Determining admissions policies on the basis of wealth is both morally wrong and against the law.

"All schools must follow the School Admissions Code which should make sure school places are allocated fairly, with an admissions policy that does not unfairly disadvantage children from a particular social or racial group, or those with a disability or special educational needs.

"Parents with concerns should report them to the Schools Adjudicator, who can intervene."

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: "Disadvantaged young people should have the same chance of accessing the best state school in their neighbourhood as their better off neighbour.

"We have previously documented social selectivity in secondary schools, but today's findings warn us that primary school admissions are far from a level-playing field."

Head of the NASUWT teaching union, Chris Keates, said key provisions in the admissions code had been diluted.

"Consequently we now have selection by stealth, as practices are introduced which are designed to deter children from socio-economically deprived backgrounds, with increasing numbers of parents unable to secure a place in their local school," she said.

Last year the Office of the Schools Adjudicator said oversubscription arrangements in some schools appear to allow them "to choose which children to admit".

It added that too many schools who set and run their own admissions did not comply with Department for Education rules.

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