New school admission code hits pushy parents, survey finds

Middle-class parents have been prevented from talking their way into top state schools after a crackdown on schools covertly selecting pupils

Middle-class parents have been prevented from talking their way into the top state schools after a crackdown this year on schools covertly selecting pupils. A survey by the Guardian of local authorities found most had taken steps to implement a new admissions code.

With more than 560,000 families scheduled to receive the outcome of applications for September secondary school places tomorrow, some local authorities are braced for record appeals from parents, the research found. Under the new rules, which have forced schools and local authorities into greater transparency, many authorities say they are expecting to meet more parents' school preferences than before.

But experts warn that a "hardcore" of middle-class parents who would previously have expected to get their first choice are likely to be disappointed.

Conservatives pledged yesterday to scrap what they said was the "completely inequitable and unfair" process of deciding school places by lottery, a system being used in several local authorities. The shadow schools secretary, Michael Gove, said the random allocation system introduced this year in Brighton and parts of Hertfordshire, London and Derby, reduced the system to the "spin of a roulette wheel". Faith schools and foundation schools, which control their own admissions, have made the biggest changes to their admission policies this year.

The schools adjudicator has investigated 79 complaints against admissions procedures since the introduction of the new code, but the extent to which authorities have amended their rules to comply was unknown.

Among the 36 local authorities in London and the north-west who responded to the poll by the Guardian on admission procedures - 54 were asked - big changes to admissions had been made by 22. A bigger number, 24, reported changes to rules for voluntary-aided faith schools and foundation schools.

Last year 100,000 families missed out on their first choice, 78,760 appealed, but only 36% were successful. Many authorities suggested that parents were much better informed this year and would not have made as many "wildcard" applications so complaints might decrease.

However, authorities in Wigan, Tameside, Stockport, St Helens, Cumbria, and Blackburn with Darwen suggested they were expecting more appeals. Lambeth in London reported that many parents were "tapping into a variety of resources that are trying to persuade them that they can successfully appeal against schools".

David Hawker, director of children's services in Westminster, said: "It will be parents who previously shouted loudest who will complain the most. You'll end up with a hardcore of upset parents most likely to complain."

Jon Coldron, an academic at Sheffield Hallam University who has conducted research on admissions, said the changes would have a limited impact on the social mix of schools because the "fundamental" problem was that parents from different backgrounds flock to different schools.

· Additional reporting by Cathy Heffernan and Anthea Lipsett


Polly Curtis and Jessica Shepherd

The GuardianTramp

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