Schools admissions policies ‘disadvantage poorer children’

27 Aug 10
Poor children are being disadvantaged by ‘unfair’ schools admission practices, a leading charity has warned today.

By Lucy Phillips

27 August 2010

Poor children are being disadvantaged by ‘unfair’ schools admission practices, a leading charity has warned today.

A report by Barnardo's says children from disadvantaged backgrounds are ‘condemned’ to go to the worst secondary schools because their parents are unable to navigate the admissions system. By contrast, better-off parents are more likely to get their children into the best schools through measures such as moving house, hiring private tutors or attending church regularly.

The top secondary schools in England take on average only 5% of pupils entitled to free school meals, less than half the national average, the charity, says.    

The report, Unlocking the gates:Giving disadvantaged children a fairer deal in schools admissions, calls on the government to encourage schools to operate a ‘banding’ policy whereby they admit equal proportions of pupils according to their academic ability. It warns that ‘skewed’ intakes of children are only likely to increase as the government pushes for more academies and ‘free schools’, which take responsibility for their own admissions.

The charity’s chief executive, Martin Narey, said the schools admissions system had become a ‘complex game’, elusive to parents in poorer households.

‘Secondary schools admissions fail to ensure a level playing field for all children,’ he added.  ‘Instead we are seeing impenetrable clusters of privilege forming around the most popular schools. Allowing such practice to persist – and almost certainly expand as increasing numbers of schools take control of their own admissions – will only sustain the achievement gap in education and undermine the prospects of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable children.’

A spokesman for the Departmentfor Education said the government was implementing a ‘comprehensive programme’ to bridge the educational attainment gap between rich and poor students.  This included the introduction of a ‘pupil premium’, which will direct extra funds at disadvantaged children, and reforming the admissions system to make it ‘simpler and fairer’.

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