Cheating parents aren’t the real problem

Good state schools are in theory free. But many parents in fact spend a significant amount of money to secure a place at the school of their choice. Academics from the Cranfield School of Management found that parents are paying up to £20,000 to live near a good school. Some parents who can’t afford – or are unwilling – to move to their preferred catchment area bend the rules. In one high-profile example Harrow prosecuted Mrinal Patel for giving her mother’s address when applying to Pinner Park First School for her son.

The School Admissions adjudicator will today publish his report into this and other similar cases. His report will assess the scale of the problem, whether the powers authorities have to withdraw places are being used and if parents are sufficiently deterred from breaking the rules. It seems that the report will take an uncompromising line. A DCSF spokesman said this morning that: “We’ve given the adjudicator far-reaching powers to deal with breaches of the code and send out a clear message that all admission authorities must comply – no ifs or buts.”

It’s right that the system is as fair as possible. But the DCSF must also be careful to avoid demonising well-intentioned parents who act out desperation and not malice. Parents bend the rules on admissions because the gap between the best and worst performing schools is so great. Their actions are a symptom – not a cause – of the problems in the education system. Until the disparity in the performance of schools is ironed out, the Government should be careful about claiming the moral high-ground on this issue.