Schools should think twice about giving top priority for places to the younger siblings of pupils who already attend the school, the admissions watchdog has suggested.
The intervention last night provoked a hostile response from parents’ groups, who claim it is impossible for mothers and fathers to deliver two children to different schools on time every morning.
The Government’s school admission watchdog, Dr Elizabeth Passmore, said the practice is restricting choice for first-born children of other families.
She claims in her second annual report that the issue is exacerbated by the shortage of primary school places in the wake of the current bulge in the birth rate – which means schools need to find an extra 256,000 places for pupils next year.
“Where a primary school, for example, becomes its own admission authority (ie becomes an academy) and the decides to give priority to all siblings whether living in or out of the catchment, there is a danger that first-born or children new to the area will not gain a place at the school, their catchment school, nor will they have priority for any other catchment-area school,” she wrote.
“Objections concerning priority for siblings also relate to younger siblings retaining priority for a popular and oversubscribed school when a family moves a significant distance away from the school resulting in those new to the area, or first-born children being unable to have a place because siblings, wherever they live, retain priority.
“The advantages for one family of keeping siblings at the same, popular school lead to disadvantages for other families who, in the worst case scenarios, end up with children in different schools, while those from farther away have their highest preference met and attend the same school.”
Dr Passmore acknowledges that there is “no easy solution” to the issue.
However, she concludes: “Solving the need to provide extra places for some children has created a problem for other children.”
Parents’ groups reacted with horror to the idea that their children will be taught in different schools in different parts of town if any review of the existing admissions code takes place.
Margaret Morrissey, of the parents’ pressure group Parents Outloud, told The Independent: “It will be impossible to get both children to school on time if they are attending schools in different parts of town.
“It is a nonsense. They don’t understand the tears and the pressures this will cause.”
The issue is one of a number raised in the annual report by Dr Passmore, the Chief Schools Adjudicator, which also criticises schools which refuse a primary school place to pupils because they did not attend the right nursery.
Dr Passmore says her office has received more than 20 objections over primaries prioritising reception class places for children who attend approved nurseries.
“The practice has been found to be unfair to other local children,” the report concludes.
A large part of the adjudicator’s job is to investigate complaints about school admissions – and the report says it received 162 objections this year, a 4 per cent increase on the previous year.
Dr Passmore’s report also concludes that a number of schools are failing to consult on their admission policies – which are often difficult to find on a school’s website.
Some schools, it adds, are also trying to avoid admitting certain youngsters, using “delaying tactics” to avoid taking them in.