Rein on Parent Power; Councils Could Get Control over School Choice

Article excerpt

Byline: LAURA CLARK

THE right of parents to choose their children's school will be limited by a planned shake-up of the admissions system, it was claimed last night.

Ministers are considering allowing councils to direct admissions for all state-funded schools in an attempt to stop shrewd middleclass parents holding on to more than one offer.

Parents would be forced to register at least three preferences on a single list, instead of applying to church and former grant-maintained, or foundation, schools direct.

Critics claim the shake-up will severely restrict parental choice at the same time as undermining the right of some schools to control their own admissions.

Currently, parents in most areas are able, in effect, to make three first choices by applying directly to church and foundation schools - which run their admissions separately - as well as the local comprehensive.

Lawyers claim that current legislation says parents are only allowed one preference.

But the Department for Education announced yesterday it is consulting on plans to change the wording of the law to make clear that parents can list more than one, paving the way for councils to run list systems.

A spokesman for the department said its view was that parents should have more than one preference.

In trial schemes education authorities insisted that parents list three preferred schools among all those in the area that are funded by the state, including former grant-maintained schools.

But despite the expansion in the number

of preferred schools from one to three, opponents of a system of multiple preferences claim that parental choice was actually restricted.

Councils were effectively given a 'get out' which allowed them to allocate parents their second or third choices.

Critics also claimed the proposed shake-up raised the prospect of councils opposed to church schools

attempting to fill them with pupils they would not themselves have chosen.

The admissions framework proposals are expected to be contained in a White Paper published this autumn.

Ministers want to end the problems caused by parents hanging on to several offers, leaving scores of children without a place until the start of term.

But Conservative education spokesman Theresa May condemned plans which would allow councils to co-ordinate admissions for all types of state school via a single list. …