Waltham Forest ordered to change ‘discriminatory’ school admissions policy

Exclusive: The government’s schools adjudicator has ruled that Waltham Forest’s admissions criteria for primary schools ‘indirectly’ discriminates against non-white families, reports Marco Marcelline

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Waltham Forest Council has been ordered to change its primary school admissions policies after being found by the government to have ‘indirectly discriminated’ against families on the grounds of race and age.

Under the current admissions policy, children could be made to attend a different school from their older siblings if their families had moved more than half-a-mile away from the school.

In its published decision, the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) stated that “Non-white British/non-white applicants are more likely to be in privately rented accommodation (without security of tenure), temporary housing, or otherwise less secure in their accommodation than white British applicants who are more likely to be owner-occupiers or accommodated in social housing with security of tenure.”

The adjudicator added that non-white families are consequently “more likely to have to change their accommodation and will have less choice as to the accommodation they move to”.

This means that the admissions criteria for community and voluntary controlled primary schools in Waltham Forest is currently in violation of the Schools Admissions Code due to “indirect discrimination on the grounds of race and age”.

In its decision, the OSA further noted the “significant logistical problems” for parents when younger siblings cannot secure a place at the same school as their older siblings. This situation, the adjudicator said, often results in siblings attending different schools or older siblings being forced to change schools, “creating considerable disadvantages” for both parents and pupils.

The order follows legal action brought by the law firm Simpson Millar on behalf of a father whose youngest child was refused a reception place at a local primary school attended by their older sibling. The family had moved as a result of the breakdown of a relationship.

Dan Rosenberg, who represented the family, said the council’s admissions policy was “deeply concerning”.

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He added: “It would appear that the council has given no thought to the discriminatory effects of its policies.

“Life is hard enough for families privately renting in London, or homeless families in temporary accommodation. Parents can’t be in two places at once at school drop-off time. Many families are forced to move through no fault of their own, and they should not be penalised in this way, with all of the adverse consequences for their children and their stability.”

The ruling mandates that Waltham Forest review and amend its admissions policy within the next two months to ensure compliance with the School Admissions Code.

The father, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said what happened to his family was a “very unwelcome shock”.

He said: “Having a four year old and a six year old in different schools was a nightmare, and very difficult to contend with on top of the breakdown in my relationship with the children’s mother. The children were always late for school, or the last one in the playground at pick up time. It made a hard situation unnecessarily harder.”

The council’s primary school admissions policy was also criticised by Ben Twomey, chief executive of Generation Rent, who said: “School admissions are yet another way that the system treats private renters as second-class citizens. Not only do we face the stress and hardship of unwanted moves, they can cause further damage by disrupting our children’s education.

“Minority ethnic and younger households are more likely to be private renters so are made most vulnerable to evictions and the school disruptions that come with them, embedding discrimination.”

He continued: “Reforms to protect renters from unfair evictions, and measures to build affordable homes where people want to live would reduce the number of families forced to undertake these painful moves, but councils still need to make sure school policies don’t discriminate and disadvantage families further.”

A council spokesperson said it “works hard” to ensure that children receive a place in their preferred primary schools. The spokesperson added: “In 2024, nearly 93% of Waltham Forest pupils received an offer for their first choice of primary, and 99% were allocated a place in a school of their preference.”

The Echo understands that the council is currently considering the OSA’s decision.

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