Current admissions regulations allow schools to take into account the willingness of parents to agree to home-school contracts only if they are oversubscribed - which in effect means the most popular schools.
Now the latest Citizen's Charter update suggests that the Government is planning legislation which would enable all schools to use the controversial contracts as part of their admissions' criteria.
The move has sparked fears that parental choice of school will be further eroded by the contracts, because in effect those who refused to sign would be refused entry at the most popular schools. If future legislation means that all schools in an area adopted the contracts, then parents might either be coerced to sign or find their children without a place at all. And if parents did sign but then refused to abide by the agreement, sanctions could be taken against them.
There are also worries that the current regulations are contradictory and unsatisfactory. Consecutive paragraphs state first that: "School places may not lawfully be offered subject to the agreement by parents or pupils to specified conditions or undertakings. This would include the signing of a home-school contract or other similar agreement," and subsequently: "The willingness, or otherwise, of a parent to sign a home-school contract may only be taken into account in making admission decisions if a school is oversubscribed . . . the terms of the contract itself would need to be reasonable."
Margaret Tulloch, of the Campaign for State Education, described the situation as confusing and added: "Who is to define what a reasonable contract would be?" A spokeswoman for the Department for Education and Employment said new legislation planned for the next Parliamentary session would clarify the situation. Contracts were voluntary and had no legal force, and if parents thought their disinclination to sign had prevented them getting a school place they could use that argument at appeal.
OPINION, page 24.