As the pressure on school places shows no sign of letting up, admissions arrangements are coming under increasing scrutiny. A recent decision by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator puts the spotlight on overly onerous evidential hurdles and serves as a reminder to admissions authorities that their arrangements must be fair.

The competition for school places continues to be fierce in many parts of the country. Between January 2017 and January 2018 the number of pupils at school rose by 66,000. The competition for places means parents will go to great lengths to get their children into school including renting a property within a catchment area of a school, while maintaining their permanent place of residence outside the catchment area. In a recent decision by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (“OSA”) admission arrangements for a school in Essex were deemed unfair because of the evidential requirements the arrangements placed upon applicants.

The School concerned was a selective school admitting 150 girls to Year 7. After giving priority to looked after and previously looked after children who scored above the cut off mark on its selection test, its admission arrangements for entry in September 2019 allocated the next 120 places to girls living in the School’s catchment area who scored above the cut off mark on its selection test.

The arrangements required all girls to have a British or EU passport and, for girls living in rented accommodation, the arrangements required the applicant to provide a tenancy agreement lasting for a minimum of 15 months from registration for the School’s selection test to the point of admission in September 2019.

The OSA concluded that the two requirements were unfair under the School Admissions Code, paragraph 14. The OSA reasoned that while requirements concerning tenancy agreements may be designed to inhibit parents from attempting to rent a property inside the catchment area, at the same retaining their home elsewhere; they equally mean that parents genuinely living in rented accommodation within the catchment area will be unlikely to be able to satisfy the School of their permanent residence; which causes unfairness to such families.

In regard to the requirement that a child must have a British or EU passport, the OSA referred to Department for Education guidance which does not require a child to hold a British/EU passport to apply or attend a state-funded school in England.

The decision serves as a timely reminder that well-intentioned admission authorities must be very careful to ensure their arrangements do not cause unfairness within the terms of the Admissions Code. If you need advice on how to describe your school’s proof of residency requirement in its admission arrangements, please get in touch.