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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 September 2005, 11:50 GMT 12:50 UK
Lottery of school places backed
school playground fence
Admissions arrangements are governed by a code of practice
Ministers have given their support to the allocation of places at over-subscribed schools by lottery.

An academy in south London is one of a number of schools now allocating some of its places to children in the area on a random basis.

The arrangements are seen as a way of breaking social segregation, particularly where better-off families buy up homes near popular schools.

They are listed as acceptable in a new draft code on school admissions.

The south London academy which has brought in the scheme is the Haberdashers' Aske's Hatcham College Academy in Lewisham.

This year more than 2,500 parents were chasing the 208 places available for 11-year-olds.

About half of the places were allocated to children with special needs, children in care, siblings of existing pupils and to the 10% of the whole intake selected on musical aptitude.

Of the remaining places, half were allocated on proximity to the school, while the other half were selected at random from within the school's three-mile catchment area.

Better-off

The arrangements would have been scrutinised by ministers before the school was granted academy status, as admissions form part of the funding agreement the Department for Education and Skills has with groups wanting to set up academies.

Martin Rogers, of the Education Network, an independent body which advises local councils, believes the policy will be good for education and society.

"It is a welcome attempt to break the strangle-hold of the better-off on the most over-subscribed schools," he told the BBC News Website.

"It's not a healthy trend that society is increasingly segregated - whether by wealth, class or religion.

"There could also potentially be major educational gains as a number of people who might not have expected to get in will be able to. The families of those they displace might then take more interest in other schools in the area."

Random allocation can be popular with parents because it's not subjective and gives an equal opportunity of admission
DfES spokesman

But not everyone is happy with the arrangements. The Neilson family live 600 metres from the Haberdashers' Aske's Hatcham College Academy and failed to get their son in this year.

Grant Neilson told the BBC News website: "The system is wrong. Our son is now travelling four miles to school when he could have walked to Haberdashers' in 10 minutes.

"Meanwhile, people are coming in from all around the area, even some distance away."

The family lodged an appeal but were unsuccessful.

Iryna Neilson, the boy's mother, said: "I strongly disagree with the new approach of random allocation. It shows that children's future is now a lottery to the education authority."

Other schools and academies are also taking similar steps. At the Walsall Academy, a "doughnut" system of admissions has been introduced to try to achieve a mix of pupils from different backgrounds.

The school's catchment area is split into an inner and outer ring, with a proportion of places set aside for children from each zone.

The government confirmed the arrangements were acceptable.

A spokesman said: "As the prime minister has said, academies are oversubscribed which is a sign of their popularity and success with parents and pupils.

"Academies are not treated any differently to other schools. They can choose their own oversubscription criteria as long as these are fair, clear and objective and follow the code of practice.

"Haberdasher's Aske has decided to use random allocation - which can be popular with parents because it's not subjective and gives an equal opportunity of admission."

The code of practice on school admissions is being redrafted and refers to the use of random allocation as "appropriate and acceptable practice". It is the first time this policy has been included in the code.


What do you think about places at over subscribed schools being decided by lottery?

This debate is now closed. Thank you for your comments.

Try being a 'forces' family. We regularly move to new areas, often at very short notice. Any time qualification or first come first served system would place us at a further disadvantage. The regulations now require parents to complete an application form in October, stating 3 preferred schools. Children will then be offered a place in March for the following September. We very rarely know a whole year in advance of the next area we are moving to, in fact my family has never had more than three months notice. Therefore it is possible for us to completely miss the allocation process between October and March and yet be living in a new home by September. Where does that leave us in the admissions process? Probably too late even for a lottery place!
Karen, Wiltshire

I think this system, while not perfect, is the most fair. It is very difficult to strike the correct balance when a school is heavily oversubscribed. I can also understand the concerns of the parents that live nearby, probably they moved closer (and paid for it) and now haven't got a place. It is good that parents cannot "buy the way in" to the best schools.
Juan C, London, UK

I work within the admissions department of a secondary school and am well aware of the problems associated with this issue. All of the suggested options carry a huge administrative burden and are certainly open to abuse. I can only imagine the workload that would accompany a policy that involved checking how long a child/family had lived in the area. A potential problem is the timing of such a "lottery" as there is the worry that whilst the procedure is taking place the student can miss out on a place at other local schools that may also be oversubscribed.
Sammy, UK

However places are allocated there will be winners and losers. The problem will remain as long as so many state schools are allowed to get away with low standards of teaching and discipline. This is what causes so many people to be so desperate to avoid the failing schools.
Allocating places solely on proximity sounds fair, until you remember that this simply leads to middle class ghettos around the better schools, with property prices that keep out poorer families. I wonder, however, how many government ministers will want to take their chances with a lottery for their own children's education. On past form, they will continue to protest against selection while making sure that their own offspring don't end up in some inner city sink comprehensive.
Ken Ricketts, Wokingham, UK

I don't believe a lottery system is good for children. It leaves too much in doubt. I think first refusal should be given to children who have siblings already at the school, thereafter children should be allocated places on a first come, first served basis only. I also believe that there should be a time qualification as well to stop families moving near to popular schools within a few years of a child changing schools and denying a place to a child who has been resident in the area for all or a substantial part of their lives.
Charani, Somerset

I think this new scheme is a long needed change. My only question would be, how do the schools intend to cope with the new pressures and social groupings that may occur. I feel more measures need to be taken to help nurture whole being, who feel connected and equal in society rather than insisting on obsessing about grades.
Anna C, Oxford



SEE ALSO:
School choice 'causes distress'
22 Jul 04 |  Education
Call for school entry 'lottery'
20 Jul 04 |  Education
Parents win school choice appeal
26 Aug 05 |  Berkshire
Tough choices on school places
22 Jul 04 |  Education


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