Schools that select 'well-off' children to face crackdown

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Tough new regulations must be brought in to stop "rogue" state schools only admitting the children of wealthier parents, according to a report to be published today.

The report, by Chris Waterman, chief executive of ConfEd, which represents local education authority leaders, says that the best-performing schools are closing their doors to the children of less well-off families. They are using parental interviews to covertly select children from better-off families in the hope that they will boost their exam league table rankings.

The report also argues that stringent new regulations are necessary to stop many faith schools offering a segregated education to youngsters.

It follows an Independent survey which revealed that up to 70,000 parents failed to get their children into their first-choice secondary school this year. Ministers are at present consulting over a proposed new code of practice on school admissions to be published this autumn.

The report says they must bring in binding regulations to avoid widening the performance gap between the children of the better-off and the deprived. It accuses "rogue" schools of "undermining the integrity of the admissions process" by insisting on interviewing parents before agreeing to take pupils.

It comes as more than half a million parents are preparing for their children to start secondary school.

The Government's proposed code, while labelling this as "poor practice", would only offer guidance as to how schools should operate. Mr Waterman says that schools that failed to follow the good practice outlined by the Government "will probably be those that can see some advantage in not doing so".

"Presumably this advantage must be in terms of being able to select a better cohort of pupils - with better being defined as a combination of nicer, brighter and better off," he adds.

He said this undermined parental confidence in school admissions and encouraged "parental dishonesty". Some parents have invented false addresses or undergone "damascene conversions" to whatever faith is necessary to get into the best-performing schools.

On faith schools, the pamphlet warns of the dangers inherent in the Government's declared intention of encouraging independent faith schools, particularly Muslim ones, to "opt in" to the state system.

"If [faith schools'] admission arrangements are to be inclusive of all elements of the population in their area, the argument for requiring all schools to follow the good practice in the code becomes even more compelling," he says.

His comments are supported by Barry Sheerman, Labour chairman of the Commons Education Select Committee, which has expressed concern that the balance of power is "slipping away" from parents choosing schools to schools choosing the children they want to admit.

Sins of Admission by Chris Waterman is published by the Institute for Research in Integrated Strategies, an independent think-tank.