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A quarter of parents bend rules to get children into preferred school, survey finds

A quarter of parents admitted they bent rules or “played the system” to increase the likelihood of their child getting a place into their preferred school, a survey suggests.

According to Zoopla, parents are breaking school admissions criteria to avoid paying an average £82,960 premium on houses in the catchment area of a high-performing school.

Almost 17% of parents said they lied, bent or broke rules to try to get their child into a good school and a further 7% said they played the system to their advantage.

Of the respondents who said they flouted the rules, 16% said they made a “voluntary donation” to the school before a place was confirmed and 5% said they offered a bribe.

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Real estate company Zoopla surveyed 1,000 parents, who have children aged between four and 16 across the UK.

Practice is ‘widespread’ across the UK

The deadline for primary school applications is this week and some 27% of respondents admitted they exaggerated religious affiliations or said they attended religious services to secure a place in a faith school.

A fifth said they registered their son or daughter at a relative’s address, that was closer to their preferred school, while one in 10 lied about their home address and 8% said they temporarily rented a second home in the catchment area.

Daniel Copley, a consumer expert at Zoopla, said: “We were blown away by the figures showing just how many parents are going to extreme lengths to get their kids into the preferred school, which suggests the practice is endemic to the application process and widespread across the country.

“While the premium on a property in the catchment area of a popular local school might appear steep, we know that many homeowners have far more equity tied up in their home than they realise, which could make a move into a good catchment area a possibility.”

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‘A sign of intense competition’

The general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, Geoff Barton, said it is “depressing” to see parents bending the rules and the survey results are a “sign of the intense competition which sometimes exists around school places”.

“In respect of its finding on ‘bribes’ such as parents offering donations to a school, we would like to make it very clear that schools are not susceptible to such inducement and that attendance criteria is scrupulously applied by admissions authorities,” he said.

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“The wider issue here is the fact that competitive pressure for school places is often driven by Ofsted ratings with parents chasing places at schools with ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ ratings.”

He added that the government needs to focus on improving support for schools that face the biggest challenges “so that every family has access to a good local school and there is much less pressure over school places”.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are committed to delivering high-quality school places for children and families wherever they live and have announced nearly £500 million to provide the places needed for 2023.

“The number of good or outstanding schools has increased significantly, from 68% in 2010 to 86% in March 2021, so parents across the country can be confident their child will get the high-quality education they deserve.

“It is for admission authorities to allocate school places fairly and in strict accordance with the school’s admissions criteria.”

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