Schools 'use expensive uniforms to deter poor'

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The Independent Online

Schools are "unashamedly" manipulating poorer families into not applying by demanding that pupils wear expensive uniforms from specialist shops and that parents pay for school fund contributions and music lessons, the report, by Chris Waterman, chief executive of ConfEd, which represents local authority leaders, concludes.

The pressure to succeed in league tables has pushed primary schools to adopt the tactics used by some secondary schools to try to boost their intake of bright children from wealthier backgrounds and limit the number of pupils who seem likely to struggle.

The report described the schools' tactics as "anything but subtle", arguing that too many primaries now demand an expensive and distinctive uniform rather than allowing cheaper standard items of clothing. Other primaries use their open days, when prospective parents visit, to put poorer families off by stressing the contributions they would be expected to make to the school fund or the extensive programme of residential visits and music lessons that they would have to pay for.

"Add these elements together, which some schools seem unashamedly to do, and it is all too apparent that education that is free at the point of delivery can actually mean quite expensive at the point of delivery," the report says. This social selection has produced a worrying situation where middle-class parents are hogging too many places at successful primary schools at the expense of poorer children who live nearby, it says.

The report warned that England is heading for an admissions crisis where only parents who know how to play the system will win places at the best schools because of the Government's new White Paper proposals to allow all 24,000 of England's schools to run their own admissions.

It also singled out faith schools for criticism arguing that many took far fewer children eligible for free school meals - an indicator of poverty - than they would have been expected to given their catchment areas.

The report follows an earlier study by Mr Waterman into covert selection in secondary schools which concluded that they were using parental interviews to pick children from better-off families in the hope that they would boost their exam league table rankings.

It came after an Independent survey revealed that up to 100,000 parents failed to get their children into their first-choice secondary school this year. Ministers are consulting over a proposed new code of practice on school admissions to be published this autumn.

Today's report concludes that schools should be legally compelled to comply with the code, arguing that the current situation, which only requires them to "have regard" to it, was not working. "More choice for parents makes clear that admission to school will be central to achieving the radical reforms that the White Paper outlines," the report says.