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Scrap the sibling rule, says regulator in bid to reduce burden on over-subscribed schools

30 November 2013 8,692 views No Comment

sibling• Office of the Schools Adjudicator warned some parents suffer disadvantages
• Their children are being squeezed out of classes by lots of siblings
PUBLISHED: 23:40, 29 November 2013 | UPDATED: 00:44, 30 November 2013

Popular schools should consider scrapping priority for younger brothers and sisters because it is unfair to local families, it was suggested yesterday.
The Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) warned that some parents suffer ‘disadvantages’ because their children are being squeezed out of classes by lots of siblings.
They fail to gain places at nearby over-subscribed schools as families with a child already attending gain precedence for siblings even if they have moved away.

Over-subscription: Popular schools should consider scrapping the ‘sibling rule’ that gives priority to younger brothers and sisters of existing pupils
Others parents continue to lose out despite their primaries being forced to expand as available places are snapped up by brothers and sisters.
The problem is already leading to some schools abandoning the sibling rule altogether in favour of measuring all applicants based on their distance to the school gates.
The admissions regulator said that when a school is ‘popular and oversubscribed’ there will always be parents who are disappointed when they are not allocated a place for their child.
However, the School Admissions Code makes clear that ‘its purpose is to ensure that all school places for maintained schools and academies are allocated and offered in an open and fair way’.
While the OSA is not making a formal recommendation, its high profile criticism of sibling rules is likely to make more schools reassess their admission criteria in future.
It comes amid a shortage of places, which this September saw thousands of pupils squeezed into ‘bulge’ classes as primary schools struggled to cope with a massive influx of pupils.
In its annual report, the regulator warned of the knock-on effect of these ‘bulge’ classes – an extra one-off reception class which continues throughout the school.
The OSA said that ‘solving the need to provide extra places for some children has created a problem for other children’.
It said: ‘The overall effect in some schools is that the priority for siblings has reduced the number of places available for children living near the school who do not have an older sibling already attending the school.’
The regulator stressed there is no ‘easy solution’, however some schools ‘try to achieve a degree of fairness by linking sibling and catchment for priority’.
Others ‘uncouple sibling and catchment and give priority on distance from home to school only’.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said there was a ‘manipulation’ of admissions by some parents
The annual report said that applying the sibling rule to all those living in or out of the catchment can lead to 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.’
It added: ‘The advantages for one family of keeping siblings at the same, popular school lead to disadvantages for other families who, in the worst case scenario, end up with children in different schools, while those from further away have their highest preference met and attend the same school.’
The OSA also warned that some primaries are also giving ‘unfair’ priority to youngsters entering reception who went to certain pre-schools.
The Department for Education should consider issuing guidance for schools and local authorities so that youngsters ‘are not disadvantaged by any decisions their parents make about the care of their children prior to compulsory school age or by access to specific child care’.
Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said there was a ‘manipulation’ of admissions by some parents who secure a place for their first child and then move out of catchment and benefit from the sibling rule.
But he added that schools must react swiftly to the ‘bulge’ classes moving through and take ‘appropriate action’, ensuring there is necessary accommodation and good staff employed.
He said: ‘The ideal solution is lots of good school places so you don’t have this terrible squeeze.
‘I sympathize with parents over the desperate shortage of school places and successive governments haven’t really paid sufficient attention to the greatly increased birth rates and ensured schools provide for them.
‘Now we’re playing desperate catch up and parents are suffering the consequences.’
The OSA is responsible for ensuring that schools comply with admissions laws and its decisions are legally binding. It receives referrals mainly from parents but also schools, local authorities and members of the public.

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