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Poorer families disadvantaged in finding school places

Research from the Education Policy Institute shows an entrenchment of the gap between rich and poor when using the appeals and waiting list system

Posted by Julian Owen | April 17, 2019 | People, policy, politics

The first comprehensive study of the school appeals system – through which families who fail to land their first choice of secondary school can challenge the decision – has revealed some troubling iniquities. 

Research from the Education Policy Institute (EPI) shows an entrenchment of the gap between rich and poor in education, with those in the least affluent areas twice as unlikely to obtain their first choice of secondary school on appeal as families in more prosperous neighbourhoods. 

Using newly published data from the Department for Education, the EPI also identified that disadvantaged pupils - defined as those eligible for the Pupil Premium – are more likely to miss out, compared to non-disadvantaged pupils (13% against 18%). 

Ensuring that there is fair access to school places in all parts of the country is crucial if the government’s objective of improving social mobility is to be met

The report – Fair Access to Schools? The impact of the appeals and waiting list system – found a similar disparity applied to children from some ethnic minority backgrounds. Only 12% of Asian pupils and 10% of black pupils secured their preferred choice of school using appeals and waiting lists systems, versus 21% of white British pupils and 17% of Chinese pupils. 

“Up until now, little has been known about the routes parents take if not initially offered their first choice of school,” said the EPI. 

“The schools that pupils attend have an impact on their life chances. 

“Ensuring that there is fair access to school places in all parts of the country is crucial if the government’s objective of improving social mobility is to be met.” 

Other key findings include: 

-       Out of the half a million (545,000) total school offers in 2016/17, around 459,000 (84%) of these were offers to parents for their top choice of school

-       Parents not using all their preferences are more likely to receive a school place with a poor Ofsted rating. They are therefore better off applying for more schools, rather than fewer, as received wisdom often suggests

-       Attainment is also a factor when it comes to determining a successful outcome. Those with low attainment at the end of primary are less likely to access their first choice of secondary school after using these routes than those with high attainment (15% against vs 23%) 

Those in the least affluent areas are twice as unlikely to obtain their first choice of secondary school on appeal as families from in prosperous neighbourhoods

The EPI is calling on the Government to make good on its pledge to review the school admissions system. 

“If it wishes to address inequalities in school access, and reduce socio-economic gaps,” says the institute, “then such a review is imperative. 

“Parents should have better information to navigate the admissions and appeals process. All families have the right to use the appeals and waiting lists system, though it is unclear whether all parents are aware of this. Parents should also be encouraged to use all their available preferences when applying to schools. 

“Support should be in place to ensure a level playing field for parents when appealing for a school place: the requirement to produce a written statement may be a barrier to some parents.”

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