The School Admissions Process: Experiences of Parents and Carers of Children from Vulnerable Groups

Kerry Martin, Richard White, Fiona Walker

16 April 2014

NFER carried out a small-scale qualitative data collection exercise to gather experiential information from parents and carers of vulnerable children who had recent experience of the school admissions system. This work was carried out on behalf of the Office of the Children’s Commissioner to inform its wider investigation into school admissions procedures in England, available to download here.

A recruitment campaign was devised to identify parents and carers of children from key vulnerable groups who felt that certain secondary schools had discouraged them from applying for a place for their child. Prospective participants were recruited via social media (including Facebook, Twitter and online parenting forums). Key intermediary organisations working with children and families were also asked to share the project details with parents and carers via their practitioner networks. Additional proactive recruitment was undertaken to increase the response rate, which included emails and telephone calls to 78 local authority and third sector services. Responses were received from 41 individuals (24 parents/carers and 17 practitioners).

A total of 16 participants (including ten parents/carers and six practitioners) were selected to take part. Interviews focussed on the interactions and conversations parents and carers have with school staff prior to, or around the time of, primary to secondary transfer, that might lead them to feel discouraged from applying for a secondary school place for their child.

Key Findings

  • The experiences of the small number of parents, carers and practitioners we spoke to suggest that cases of planned and direct unlawful admissions discrimination are rare. However, there can be variation in the extent to which secondary schools actively encourage and promote an inclusive ethos to certain groups of families, which can influence their school choice.
  • It has been suggested that, on occasion, certain secondary schools either deliberately or unintentionally dissuade parents and carers of vulnerable children from applying for a school place for their child through their actions and behaviours. This may not be planned or representative of the entire school ethos. It is equally likely that schools could be acting in the interests of the child where they feel the choice of school is inappropriate.
  • In the few cases identified where secondary schools appeared to attempt to actively discourage parents and carers of vulnerable children from applying for a place, they mostly involved children with Special Educational Needs.
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