Schools cherry-picking pupils who apply mid-year, says report
Vulnerable children can struggle to find a school place if they apply mid-year, with some schools "cherry-picking" pupils, according to the chief schools adjudicator for England.
Some schools "unlawfully" interviewed children before deciding on in-year places, said Shan Scott in a report.
Others made background checks on would-be pupils, said Ms Scott, who became chief adjudicator in April.
The government said the report would help ensure fairer school admissions.
Delays to in-year admissions were a matter of concern, said Ms Scott, in her first annual report on the admissions system in England.
In particular, there were safeguarding concerns about children in vulnerable families who could not quickly find school places, said the report.
"Parents may be at a loss to know where or how they should apply for an in-year place."
Some local authorities have suggested that parents looking for school places during the academic year "may typically approach three or four schools, occasionally as many as five or six, before receiving the offer of a place".
Under rules brought in by the Coalition government, schools that managed their own admissions, including academies and some faith schools, sometimes had "time-consuming" procedures for admitting pupils in the middle of the school year, which could result in "a child being out of school longer than should be necessary", said the report.
"If a school has available places in the relevant year group, they should be offered to applicants freely and without condition," it added.
But schools could be unwilling to admit children part-way through examination courses and some "do not wish to admit pupils who, it is felt, may have an adverse effect" on published performance tables.
"A few local authorities continue to report that parents are strongly encouraged by some schools to consider education at home for a child when such factors come into play," said the report.
Schools that managed their own admissions were meant to keep the local authority informed about mid-year applications and outcomes and to tell parents of their right to appeal if they were told there was not a place for their child, said the report.
But about a third of local councils told the authors that they were not kept up to date and it could, therefore, be difficult "to advise parents effectively of where vacancies may exist".
The Local Government Association, which represents councils in England, supports calls for councils to resume responsibility for in-year admissions.
"Councils have a statutory duty to ensure that all children have a school place and are receiving a good education," said Richard Watts, chairman of the LGA's Children and Young People Board.
"There are far stronger safeguards in place to ensure maintained schools do not cherry-pick their pupils and the same measures should be in place for all state-funded schools."
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "This annual report will help us to identify how we can continue to improve the admissions framework to ensure fair access to school places for all children."