Chelmsford school’s ‘temporary homes’ admissions rule judged unfair

A top Essex grammar school will have to change parts of its admissions policies which had been imposed to stop parents from gaming the system.

Chelmsford County High School for Girls’ adjudicator panel has ruled the policy which allows parents to rent a temporary home in order to fall within the school’s 12-mile catchment area as “unfair”.

The objector’s concern was the use of a temporary address is “clearly designed to prevent the use of fraudulent or intentionally misleading addresses”.

Government officials Jane Kilgannon and Phil Whiffing ruled there is a lack of clarity in this aspect of the arrangements determining which girls are eligible to sit the 11-plus exams.

Places for the school are fiercely fought over which has led the school to impose strict admissions criteria – including a 12.5-mile catchment area, rules over how long applicants have to have lived in it for and reserving a right to determine if a property is a “temporary address”. But the adjudicators have said this is too vague and needs to be changed.

In a ruling they said: “There is no definition provided of “temporary address”. It is also not clear what “might be considered” means – for example, how certain does the governing body need to be that the address is a temporary one before it can exercise its discretion not to allocate the school place? What kind of evidence does it base its decision upon? Are parents invited to send in such evidence or will they be invited to make representations if there is a suspicion?”

Several areas of the admissions policy set out by Chelmsford County High School for Girls in Chelmsford had been challenged. And while most had not been upheld by the schools adjudicators, including the policy of setting the same entrance paper on multiple dates, were rejected, they did accept an objector’s additional concern that the arrangements requiring applicants to have lived within the catchment area from September 1 of Year 6 was also wrong.

This was unfair for those children who have recently moved into the area between September 1 and October 31, when applications must be made, for reasons unconnected with securing a place at the school.

The objector also queried the requirement in the arrangements that states that “informal letting arrangements will not be accepted”. This policy will also have to be changed after the adjudicator ruled that “a blanket policy that rules out the possibility of a parent relying on an informal letting arrangement as proof of the normal place of residence of their child risks unfairness.”

The school has argued that rental agreements can be fabricated and allowing informal letting arrangements leaves the school open to, beyond what is reasonable or necessary, to claims that individuals live in a place that they may not actually do so.

The school says that “a line has to be drawn somewhere so as to protect the integrity of the admissions arrangements” and “unfortunately, admission authorities across the county have problems with false addresses being given by parents/carers in order to increase a child’s chances of gaining a place at a particular school”.

The ruling continued: “It pre-judges that a family living under an informal letting arrangement will be doing so illegitimately, in order to obtain a place at the school. This is not necessarily the case. Therefore, the provision may result in unfairness to an applicant whose family live under such a letting arrangement.”

The school, which is one of the moist oversubscribed in Essex, was asked to change its admissions policy in 2019 after the adjudicator ruled some girls were missing out on places at the top-performing selective state grammar school because they live in rented homes.

The school had to change its rules that families had to show evidence of long tenancy agreements. The schools adjudicator said it was unfair to short-term tenants.

The school is rated “outstanding” by Ofsted and regularly features towards the top of school league tables for exam results.

Children have to pass the 11-plus examination to secure a place. The school had two first preferences for each of the 180 places offered, with just 46 per cent of those who put the school as their first choice getting a place this September. Overall, the secondary school was put down as a preference 652 times.

The policy of re-using of the same tests for late sitters of the selection test, additional time being allowed during selection tests for children with dyslexia, age standardisation in selection test for children born later in the year, the re-use of old questions in a new selection test, arrangements for alternative sittings of the selection tests for those unable to attend on a scheduled date and the catchment area employed in the arrangements, were not upheld.

The school will have to revise its admission arrangements by the end of November.

The school was approached for comment.

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter