Parents who cheat to get school places will be prosecuted
The Guardian, Saturday 31 October 2009
Parents who cheat to get a place at the best state schools will face fines and court orders under hardline proposals to be set out by a major inquiry on Monday.
At the moment, parents who lie only risk forfeiting the school place. The inquiry, by the chief schools adjudicator, will say the penalty should be toughened up, a source with links to the review said. Sanctions could include a court summons, a fine or an order to undertake unpaid work. It follows an unsuccessful attempt by Harrow council this summer to prosecute a parent under the Fraud Act who was accused of lying about her address to get her child a place at a popular primary. The case collapsed, exposing the lack of legal sanctions deterring parents from making deceptive statements in their applications, and prompted the schools secretary, Ed Balls, to request the inquiry. Ian Craig, the chief schools adjudicator, refused to divulge details of his report, which is currently with ministers, but said: “There is very little to discourage parents from making deceptive applications. If they had no chance to get that place in the first place, that is not a deterrent.” His inquiry will also reveal the extent of fraudulent applications in England. “We know that the issues are broader than just one London borough,” he said.
The Local Government Association found that three-quarters of councils had witnessed rapid rises in fraudulent applications in the last three years. Some were found to have temporarily rented flats, used a friend’s address or moved in with a relative in the catchment area.Harrow council attempted to prosecute Mrinal Patel under the Fraud Act after she used her mother’s address to apply to a heavily oversubscribed primary school for her son. Harrow was forced to drop the case because it could not prove that she stood to gain financially from the alleged deception, which would be required for a prosecution under the anti-fraud laws.
David Ashton, leader of Harrow council, said: “I’m hoping the review will come up with a degree of sanction. It doesn’t need to be as stringent as the Fraud Act but it needs to have teeth.”
Margaret Morrissey, of the campaigning group Parents Outloud, said: “Lying is wrong, but I do understand why parents do it. The government has promised to improve schools to take away this problem, and it has not delivered.” We need a realistic criteria acknowleding where parents work and where the people who care for children live. Life is difficult enough we do not need Ed Balls to continually make life more difficult we need help and a degree of working with parents not against all the time school places need to be available where we need them not where government say they should be
Government statistics published this week revealed a sharp rise in the number of parents appealing to get their child into the primary school of their choice.
Michael Gove, the shadow education secretary, said: “The government is dealing with the symptoms rather than the causes of mass parental dissatisfaction. At the moment there are hundreds of thousands of parents not getting their choice of school. We need to allow new providers into the system so more parents have the kinds of schools they want.”