Balls announces school places inquiry

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The Independent Online

An inquiry to find out how many parents are "playing the system" to get their children into a school of their choice was ordered yesterday by the Children's Secretary, Ed Balls.

The schools adjudicator Ian Craig will investigate how many parents are giving false information and if councils have the right powers to deter parents from "breaking the rules".

The announcement came after a council dropped a legal case against a mother accused of using a false address to get her son into a popular state primary. Harrow Council in north London took Mrinal Patel, 41, to court for allegedly using her mother's address when she applied for a place for her five-year-old son, Rhys, at Pinner Park First School in January last year.

Mrs Patel said she was genuinely living at the address for a time. The place was withdrawn when she told the authorities she had moved back home with her husband. Rhys now attends a private school.

Harrow Council brought the case under the Fraud Act 2006. It said yesterday that "issues" had been raised over whether the act was applicable. Mrs Patel is believed to have been the first parent in England to face prosecution for school admissions fraud.

About the inquiry, Mr Balls said: "I've asked [Ian Craig] to look at whether the scale of this problem is more significant than we've thought, whether at the moment the powers which authorities have to withdraw places are being used, whether those powers are sufficient to deter parents from unfairly playing the system and breaking the rules, and whether we need to take further steps."

It will report back in November.