Ladies who lunch ... in the dinner hall

22nd July 2011 at 01:00
Middle classes may resort to dishing up school meals as changes allow children of staff to jump admissions queue

New admissions rules will tempt desperate middle-class parents to become dinner ladies in a bid to guarantee places for their children at popular state schools, an admissions expert has predicted.

Proposed changes allowing priority to be given to children of school staff will be used by parents attempting to secure places at oversubscribed schools, according to Chris Waterman, who helped civil servants draft the existing admissions code.

Mr Waterman, a former chief executive of the Association of Directors of Children's Services, said that the importance parents place on getting children into the right school means any potential loophole will be exploited.

The draft admissions code unveiled by the Government in May says that schools wanting to allow children of staff to jump the admissions queue "must set out clearly in their admission arrangements how they will define 'staff' and on what basis children of staff will be prioritised".

It is up to them to decide which staff qualify and Mr Waterman says that because there are no limits on how long they must be in a job, parents would only have to work at a school until their child had secured a place.

"Unless schools very tightly define what staff qualify then it could be any job for any period," he said. "If a non-working parent wants to get a place for their child in an oversubscribed school they might only need to work part-time as dinner lady for a few weeks."

In a report he has written on the draft code, Mr Waterman states that a "very popular school employing highly qualified, graduate school meals assistants for a couple of hours a week" might not be as fanciful as it sounds. "Some parents will go to any length to get that place," he told The TES.

Parents have long been prepared to pay hefty house price premiums to get into popular schools, and admissions authorities have to make thorough checks to ensure that the addresses used are children's genuine homes.

Local authority staff have even been offered bribes to move pupils up school waiting lists.

Under the existing code, schools cannot give admissions priority to children of staff without a "demonstrable skill shortage".

The Government believes the restriction leads to some schools "losing out on potentially very valuable members of staff as they seek to balance work and life as a parent".

But Mr Waterman doubts whether the new freedom will solve the recruitment problems of the most needy schools and believes no staff should be given priority.

"The argument that tough schools in tough areas might attract staff by offering places to their children assumes, one, that the school is oversubscribed - unlikely - and, two, that the member of staff, however defined, will want their son or daughter to attend the school - equally unlikely," he writes.

His report warns that the increase in different admission arrangements caused by more schools becoming academies makes the system harder for less informed parents to negotiate, and adds that the proposed new code will "set back fair access to schools by at least 30 years".

A Department for Education spokesman said: "We make no apologies for making it easier for schools to recruit and retain teachers and other staff. It is down to schools whether they use this power - and which staff to include if they do."

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