School admissions victory sparks head's anger

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The Independent Online

The headmaster of a leading secondary school called today for reform after successfully defending his school's admissions policy in costly High Court proceedings.

Sir Pritpal Singh, who is head of Drayton Manor High School in Hanwell, west London, condemned as "an absolute disgrace" the time and money spent on having to come to court after the Schools Adjudicator overturned the policy - just days before parents were due to submit applications for places in September 2009.

Sir Pritpal said the admissions procedure had been thrown into chaos, with the school having to fight through August and September to defend its procedures for choosing pupils because it is oversubscribed.

He also accused the adjudicator of doing "an appalling job".

He said: "I am very, very concerned that this is going on in schools across the country, and I am going to raise the matter with the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL).

"I am going to bring the matter to the attention of the general secretary, Dr John Dunford."

Drayton Manor has been praised by the Government for educational excellence.

Local education authority Ealing Council attacked the school for discriminating against poor and working-class families through its oversubscription policy.

The council said parents of children who lived in poorer areas within a mile north of the school were "confused" as to why their children were not being offered places at Drayton Manor when they applied.

Drayton Manor said there was another school, Brentside High, which was nearer the families, and it had adopted a policy to help Brentside, which had experienced falling rolls.

But the council objected that its oversubscription criteria could encourage "social segregation" and might "disadvantage children from a particular social or racial group".

The Schools Adjudicator, Andrew Baxter, upheld the objection and said the criteria must be changed.

He gave his decision on 16 October, just days before parents were due to submit applications.

The admissions watchdog found that popular Drayton Manor had "indirectly discriminated" against children from "economically less advantaged families".

But today Judge Stewart QC, sitting at the High Court in London, quashed the adjudicator's decision, saying he had failed to give adequate reasons.

The judge said he had also failed to take into account the "central plank of the school's case" - that children to the east faced being disadvantaged by the changes the adjudicator himself was proposing.

The judge sent the case back to the adjudicator, directing that Ealing's objection "not be upheld".

Later Sir Pritpal said: "Obviously I am very happy the judge has ruled in our favour, but I am very unhappy at having to come to the High Court to get a proper decision because the adjudicator did not do his job properly.

"I think the adjudicator has done an appalling job. Terrible."

Sir Pritpal accused the adjudicator of failing to deal with the case promptly.

It was "absolutely ridiculous and disgraceful" that schools that had their admissions policies challenged then had to "run around during August and September" trying to defend their decisions.

"The amount of time and public money that has been wasted for this to come to the High Court is an absolute disgrace," he said.

The judge ordered that a transcript of today's ruling should be made available as a matter or urgency.

Samantha Broadfoot, appearing for the adjudicator, said the judgment would possibly be taken into account in other schools' cases before the adjudicator at the moment.

A spokeswoman for the Office of the Schools Adjudicator said later that they wanted to "consider and digest today's judgment before commenting further".

In the ten years that the Office of the Schools Adjudicator has been in existence only 11 decisions have been challenged in the courts.

It adjudicates on around 100 cases a year.

In the past four years there have been five cases that have gone to court.

Four failed and one, brought by the London Oratory School in December 2004, was mainly successful.

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