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School lotteries to be reviewed

walking to school
Increasingly lotteries are being used to decide who gets a school place

The use of lotteries to allocate places at oversubscribed schools in England is to be reviewed.

Schools Secretary Ed Balls has asked the chief schools adjudicator to look at how widely random selection is used and whether it is fair to children.

Mr Balls said he would be "very concerned if it was happening other than as a last resort".

Last year, almost one in five children in England failed to gain a place at their first choice school.

More than half a million 11-year-olds in England are due to find out this week which secondary school they will go to from September.

'Tie-break situations'

The Schools Admissions Code was introduced by the Labour government to try to make the system fairer for all children.

It is designed to prevent schools discriminating on the grounds of race, parent's income or occupation, or on the basis of an interview with the head teacher.

But it also allows schools to resort to using lotteries - formally termed 'random allocations' - where there is significant oversubscription for places.

A lottery system can feel arbitrary, random and hard to explain to children in years 5 and 6
Ed Balls, Schools Secretary

Mr Balls said: "The code sets out that random allocation can be a legitimate way of determining a school place in tie-break situations.

"In some areas this is the fairest way of resolving a tiny minority of decisions.

"However, I know the issue of lotteries is causing some concern to parents around the country.

"I have sympathy with the view that a lottery system can feel arbitrary, random and hard to explain to children in years 5 and 6 who don't know what's going to happen and don't know which children in their class they're going to going on to secondary school with.

"The code allows a role for random allocation, but I would be very concerned if it was happening other than as a last resort when other ways of allocating places have been exhausted."

The chief schools adjudicator will investigate the issue and report back to the government in September.

Mr Balls added that while the Schools Admissions Code had "transformed the fairness of the system," it would never "feel fully fair to parents if they can't get their child into their first choice school".


The adjudicator will also review the issue of twins who may be split up in a lottery for places - something Mr Balls said was "ridiculous".

Parents are traumatised from September
Margaret Morrissey, Parents Outloud

"I'm asking the schools adjudicator to look at how we can make crystal clear in guidance and in the code that splitting up twins when parents don't want them to be split is the wrong thing to do," he said.

Lotteries are thought to be in use in some schools in 25 local authority areas

Margaret Morrissey, from campaign group Parents Outloud, said the allocation of school places caused families a great deal of heartache.

"Since 1998 we have had wonderful promises about parental choice and school places, and every year parents and children are disappointed," she said.

"Parents are traumatised from September and are worried because they know their entire life is going to change if they can't get their child into a school that is either near to their home, their work or near to brothers and sisters so that they can take all the children to school at the same time.

"It is absolutely unacceptable."

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