School admissions rules tightened up

New guidelines clamp down on any admissions policies that discriminate against children from poor backgrounds.

It follows claims that affluent parents “play the system” to make sure children secure places at the best schools.

Ministers have already given councils the power to impose admissions lotteries to stop families buying expensive homes near top comprehensives.

And existing admissions rules ban schools from interviewing mothers and fathers for fear of inadvertently weeding out those with a poor education.

But a new toughened up code – which comes into force in February 2009 – goes further still to “ensure parents are choosing schools and not the other way round”.

Under the rules, schools are forbidden from asking for any supplementary information such as marital status, occupation, criminal convictions – or even children’s hobbies.

They can demand proof of address – but it must not contain any other details.

This means schools are banned from requesting “birth certificates or other documents, including passports, that contain information about parents”.

Governors cannot ask to see a photograph of a child in case it influences their decision.

“Admission authorities must not unlawfully discriminate against children whose parents fall into certain social groups,” said the code.

But the move was branded “bureaucratic tinkering” by the Conservatives.

Michael Gove, the shadow schools secretary, said: “Instead of devising ever more elaborate ways of allocating a limited number of good school places the Government should be concentrating on improving school standards.”

The latest move follows the publication of a report last month which said at least two-thirds of schools were failing to comply with original admissions guidelines introduced two years ago.

A quarter – including many faith schools – were guilty of more serious breaches including asking illegal questions about parents’ jobs and marital status, the Office of the Schools Adjudicator said.

It said there had not been “wilful disregard” for admissions rules but recommended tightening up national policies controlling entry to English state schools.

Mr Balls said: “The purpose of the admissions code is simple – to ensure that parents are choosing schools and not the other way round.

“Schools are a public service like any other and every child should have a fair and equal chance of getting into a school of their choice. Of course, having more good schools in every community is key to this and we are getting closer and closer to making this a reality with the highest number of good schools ever and the lowest number of failing schools.”

Under the new code, schools are also banned from seeing the order of parents’ school preferences. Under existing rules parents can choose up to six schools for their children – but governors cannot give priority to those who list a school as their number one choice.

A new national closing date for school applications will be imposed to stop parents being confused by different deadlines employed by local authorities.

And priority for state boarding school places will be given to the children of those in the armed forces.

But the code does allow schools to ask families to “respect” their ethos before applying.

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