Schools are favouring children from wealthier backgrounds over poorer children during appeal processes, according to a new report by the Education Policy Institute.
The think tank analysed the data on waiting list and appeal processes released by the Department for Education and found that for pupils living in the most affluent areas, the odds of securing a first choice school on their second attempt was almost twice as high as for those living in the most deprived areas.
Researchers found that in addition to financial background, ethnicity was a factor that affected a child’s ability to get into their first choice school in situations where they had initially missed out on a place.
Black students were least likely to get into their preferred schools, with just 10 per cent making their top choice compared to 12 per cent of Asian pupils, 17 per cent of Chinese pupils and 21 per cent of white British pupils.
Students who received pupil premium funding, which is a type of additional funding a school receives to help disadvantaged students, were less likely to get their first choice of school via appeal or waiting list compared to those who did not receive the funding.
The author of the report, Emily Hunt, explained: “If you are a family from the very poorest neighbourhood, then your odds of securing your top choice of school by appealing or using waiting lists is half that of a family from the most affluent neighbourhood.”
Hunt added that this was “particularly concerning” because top choice schools often have better Ofsted ratings, meaning disadvantaged students are missing out on better schools.
“It is clear from our research that the current appeals and waiting lists system is not consistent with the government’s aim of an education system that prioritises the most disadvantaged,” Hunt said. “The government should deliver on its recent promise to review the school admissions system, or risk damaging social mobility.”
Currently, all parents have the right to appeal a decision not to offer their child a place at their first choice school, usually on the grounds that there has been an error in applying admissions rules or because they have extra evidence of their child’s circumstances that was not initially taken into account.
Appeals are almost always aimed at high-achieving schools, graded either good or outstanding by Ofsted.
But according to the EPI report, this second round of attempts is particularly unfair, helping richer children dodge less good schools, while poorer children continue to miss out.
The research has significant ramifications for social mobility because the school a child attends has a major impact on their life chances. Ensuring there is fair access to school places in all parts of the country is crucial to creating a more equal society.
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Ensuring Fair Access to Education
This right to education was incorporated into UK law by the Human Rights Act 1998.
This means that the British government must ensure children are not prevented from receiving an education. This may be through state school, private school or home education and does not mean parents can demand their children go to a particular type of school, but it does mean everyone should have equal access to education available from the State.
In the UK, the government also enforces fair access protocols in school admissions, which are meant to ensure children without a school place are allocated one fairly.
However, it seems in practice this system isn’t working, with some parents finding it easier to navigate the system than others. For instance, parents with poor written English or English as a second language might find it particularly difficult to produce a strong written statement to support their child’s case.
Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner said things would be different under a Labour government.
“The Tories have broken their promises to parents on school admissions, and it is the most disadvantaged children who are losing out as a result of this failure,” she said.
“Instead of investing in our schools the Tories have slashed their budgets and left parents grappling with a system that leaves the most disadvantaged pupils less likely to get into their first choice schools and increases inequality.”
The Department of Education argued that it already provides clear guidance for parents to help them understand the appeals process. A spokeswoman said they had also “made clear to appeals panels they must ensure the process is consistent, with all parties being treated fairly.”
But EPI executive chair David Laws said the government must review the increasingly complex school admissions system, paying particular attention to appeals. “The appeals and waiting list system should be giving poorer children a fair chance of getting into the best schools – but this research shows that it is failing to deliver equal access,” he said.