Parents urged to act as whistleblowers to stop school places fraud

Hotline would identify parents who had cheated on their application forms
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The Independent Online

Parents are being encouraged to use a "whistleblowing" hotline to inform on other parents who they think may have lied or cheated their way into getting a place for their child at a popular school.

The Government gave its backing to the move after its admissions watchdog revealed an estimated 4,200 parents a year were obtaining places through fraud.

The move comes as it emerged yesterday that one in six parents (83.2 per cent) had failed to get their child into their first choice secondary school. The figure is exactly the same as last year and means there are nearly 90,000 disappointed families.

In a report published to coincide with the figures, Dr Ian Craig, the Chief Schools Adjudicator, estimated there were around 4,200 cases of parents making fraudulent applications for school places.

These include using relatives' (usually grandparents) addresses instead of their own, renting a home within the school's catchment area for a short time and falsely reporting a marriage breakdown, with one parent moving into a house in the catchment area for a short period.

Dr Craig's report, however, shies away from making it a criminal offence to fraudulently claim a school place. He was supported on this by the Schools Secretary, Ed Balls.

"It is essential that the public realise that there are always 'losers' if a parent uses deceptive or misleading information to gain a school place," Dr Craig's report said.

As a result, it recommends children whose parents deceive school authorities should automatically lose their place once the deception is proved.

It recommends eliminating a clause from the compulsory code on school admissions which allows them to retain the place if they have been at the school for some time before the deception is uncovered.

It also suggests that councils should routinely check 10 per cent of all applications to see if fraud has occurred – and make it clear to all applicants that this will happen.

It urges a fast-track appeals procedure to resolve allegations of deception within two weeks.

The report says it uncovered 1,400 cases of fraud which had been dealt with by local authorities over the past year.

However, most authorities reckoned there were at least two other suspected cases for every one that was proved. One in three authorities said the problem was on the increase.

Mr Balls said: "Whilst I am reassured that only a tiny minority of parents apply dishonestly, I am also clear that every place gained by deception is denying another child their rightful place."

He added: "I have always been clear that it it has not been and is not our intention that parents should be criminalised."

However, he stopped short of accepting Dr Craig's recommendation that a school place should automatically be withdrawn if a fraudulent claim was proved – saying it should be up to the independent appeals panel to decide.

Michael Gove, the Conservatives' schools spokesman, said: "Too many parents don't get the schools they want. The reality is that it is only the rich who can guarantee the kind of education they want for their children, either by going private or by paying for a mortgage in the right catchment area."

Yesterday's school admissions figures showed that – while the number of families losing out on their first-choice school had remained constant at 16.8 per cent – the percentage of families offered one of their top three preferences had risen from 94.6 per cent to 96.9 per cent.

Similarly, the number offered a place at one of their six preferences had risen by 0.4 percentage points to 95.6 per cent.

Book of tricks: How parents try to fool the schools

The commonest forms of deception cited by the Chief Schools Adjudicator, Ian Craig. The figures denote the number of complaints and are taken from the Adjudicator's initial report on deception and fraud by parents.

70 *The use of relatives' addresses, usually those of grandparents with the same surname, so that utility bills can be produced upon request

33 *Taking out a short-term rental or tenancy agreement in the desired school's catchment area for the duration of the application period

28 *Fraudulently reporting the breakdown of a marriage, resulting in one parent (usually the mother) moving to an address within the school's catchment area

25 *Parents are genuinely separated, but falsely claim that their child is living permanently with a parent living in the catchment area

24 *Use of an address owned by the parents but not their permanent address – often a rental property

21 *Parents using an address on the application form before moving away and not informing the local authority

16 *Commercial or business address within the catchment area passed off as the "home" address

14 *Use of a friend's address, sometimes swapping addresses with them in the short-term

*Headteachers have also claimed they have been offered bribes in advance of decisions on admissions