Thousands of schools leave their admissions policies open to challenges from parents by failing to post them on their own websites, the schools adjudicator has warned.
Schools which act as their own admissions authorities, such as academies, voluntary-aided (VA) and foundation schools, are required to publish online their arrangements for entry in September 2012 by 1 May this year. Parents then have until 31 July to object.
But schools adjudicator Ian Craig has revealed that thousands of schools fail to meet this deadline each year, leaving themselves vulnerable to appeals by parents.
Speaking at the School Admissions and Appeals conference in London last month, Dr Craig said 53 per cent of secondaries and 28 per cent of primaries which set their own admissions arrangements failed to post the details online by last year's deadline.
Dr Craig told school leaders: "Many of you don't do that. If I was a person out there wanting to challenge your admissions, the first thing I'd do is (use) that. And you'd lose."
Education lawyer Dai Durbridge said at the conference: "That, at the moment, is a trick being missed by parents."
According to Department for Education (DfE) data collated by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator, in January there were 4,246 VA schools, 1,210 foundation schools and 203 academies in England.
And with hundreds more schools across the country applying for academy and free-school status since the coalition Government came to power, more parents could use schools' failure to meet the deadlines to try to overturn admissions criteria.
Dr Craig told delegates that, even when details were published, they were hard to locate. "Trying to find admissions anywhere on their websites is difficult," he said.
But Andrew Hutchinson, executive principal of the Parkside Federation in Cambridge, said: "I don't think it's the case that schools are trying deliberately to mislead parents. Perhaps they are concentrating more on getting the admissions criteria ready for their prospectus for September.
"More schools are opening as academies and becoming their own admissions authorities, so they have to get used to responsibilities they didn't have before. If they choose not to get in professional advice, they could fall foul of the whole process."
Dr Craig also called for parents to be given increased support in admissions appeals, adding: "Parents must be given more power and engagement to oppose what they believe are illegal admissions arrangements."
He said the "very complex" admissions code should be simplified, but told delegates he had asked the Government not to "water down" its content. "We need all parents to be able to understand what it means," he said.
A new admissions code is expected to be published in the coming weeks, and Dr Craig said the DfE was not intending to revise it before the next general election.
However, he added: "What I suspect is that they may not stick to that. What if they don't get it perfect first time?"
Dr Craig called on councils to use their "considerable" powers to support parents who are let down by inadequate admissions procedures. "Local authorities must, in my view, become more and more, and act more and more as, champions of local people," he said.