Parents found to have used second home addresses and fake family separations to gain children a place at the school they want
Using second home addresses and even feigning a parental separation are some of the tricks Leeds City Council officers have seen over the years from families desperate to secure their child a place at the school they want.
As the city’s schools admissions team sift through appeals following the annual announcement of school places for September 2021, the Yorkshire Evening Post takes a look at how places are allocated, some of the myths - and some of the key factors as to why one family might get their number one option but a child on the opposite end of the street might not.
With more than 9,000 children in Leeds set to start their school life in September, and some 260 primary schools, it can be a logistical nightmare trying to match requests to school places available.
But, this year in Leeds 98.3 per cent of families were allocated a primary school place at one of their five top choices which is a 2.2 per cent increase on last year.
So, how do they do it?
Rebecca McCormack, Leeds City Council lead for admissions and family information service, explains: “All the preferences go into a database and each school has access to their list of people who have asked for a place. Each school has its own published admission policy and the school have to list all their preferences in that order – usually children who are looked after, then siblings, then whether you live in the catchment area - then everybody else, but each school has their own oversubscription criteria and parents need to make sure they understand how their preferred schools will allocate places.
If a child is offered a preferred option they are taken off the lists for their lower preferences, which moves other children up the ranked lists.
There are however this year, 155 families who didn’t get one of their chosen options. The city council says they have since been offered a place at a school 1.3 miles from home and 137 were offered a school within a mile of home.
The main reasons for not getting the top choice, or, any of the five choices is parents not applying before the deadline, not including five preferences, or moving house during that application window - which runs each year from November 1 to January 15.
She also added that one of the biggest misconceptions parents have is that they have to “play a game” to get the school of their choice.
She said: “It is an objective and fair system primarily run by a computer programme. There is sometimes slight risk of error and that is why the appeals process exists, the appeals panel are also able to take into account circumstances that can’t be considered by admissions authorities when allocating places.
“Parents often think they should put the school they have most chance of getting in as their higher preference, but they really should be listed in the parent’s order of preference, with the school they most want as their first preference. Schools don’t know which preference parents gave them when they are ranking applications.
“Some schools are always really popular and over-subscribed and sometimes families make aspirational preferences to get a place there, even though they are very unlikely to get in because they live a long way from the school.”
Moving to get into the catchment area is a trend that is on the council radar as are fraudulent applications.
There are systems in place to check a family has actually moved house or that they have submitted the correct address. Cases proved fraudulent could result in the school place being revoked.
Ms McCormack said: “We do identify where families appear to move house very close to the application window and have a system for checking for fraudulent addresses. There is a fine line, some will absolutely move house to be offered a place at a preferred school and we have to make sure that we have done all the checks we can so that places are allocated fairly.
“We do have a number, although it is not high compared to areas in London, of families telling us they have separated or moved into one property close to a school but kept their old property too, moving back shortly after offer day. Where we investigate and find that a family has provided intentionally misleading information on their application, school place offers can be withdrawn, even where the child has started at the school.”
This year saw Leeds offer more preferred places than last year and each year, the demographic and factors can differ.
School place availability depends upon birth rates, families moving house, new housing developments, popularity of schools and Ofsted reports but above all, it comes down to personal choices, says Ms McCormack.
"It is a really personal choice for families. When the team works through correspondence after offer day, that is the thing that they are really conscious of. It would be easy to say ‘well the computer said no’ but when it is your four-year-old at the start of their education it is an emotive and important time.”
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