EXCLUSIVE: Grey Coat school apologises for donation ‘confusion’

EXCLUSIVE: Grey Coat school apologises for donation 'confusion'

A top state school has apologised to parents after Schools Week exclusively revealed their admissions letter appeared to breach laws by asking for donations.

Grey Coat Hospital School in Westminster requested a £120 cheque from prospective parents of sixth-form students, despite admission rules forbidding it.

Parents at the Church of England school also claimed they were asked for money towards the school fund when joining Year 7.

The school wrote to parents following our story to “apologise for any confusion”.

Now shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt has added his voice to growing calls for changes to admission arrangements.

Speaking exclusively to Schools Week, he called for the roles of the regulators to be “beefed up”.

“The government has undermined the role of the adjudicator and the ombudsman,” he said.

“We need to go back to having, as we did under the last government, some greater clarity and rigour around the role of the adjudicator.”

He would not comment specifically on the letter sent by Grey Coat, the state school selected by David Cameron and Michael Gove for their daughters.

However, he said: “Schools have to be open and clear about their admissions guidelines and be able to attract students from all backgrounds.

“A more effective and clear enforcement of existing rules is the first step.”

The national admissions code states schools cannot request financial contributions as any part of the admissions process.

Former schools adjudicator Alan Parker, when presented with Schools Week’s disclosures, said: “Clearly it’s against the letter and spirit of the admissions code’s law and rules to attempt to extract cash from parents in return for a public service that is supposed to be free at the point of use.

“While it’s OK to make voluntary donations to school funds, anything that looks like bringing undue pressure, and certainly
giving the impression that it is expected and the done thing to justify your place, is absolutely wrong.”

The school has remained silent on the disclosure, despite being contacted by several national newspapers.

But a new letter sent to parents read: “We have been made aware there may have been confusion over the nature of the offer letter and our inclusion of information about the voluntary School Fund; we apologise for any confusion.”

It said the fund was entirely voluntary, adding “your curriculum offer for the sixth form is in no way dependent on a contribution to School Fund”.

The use of the term “curriculum offer” was used in the original letter to parents. Underneath it instructed them to enclose a cheque for £120. There was no opt-out.

A second letter, sent in the same envelope, read: “Paying School Fund is an important way of showing us that you are serious about taking up a place with us in Year 12 in September.”

The school again refused to comment since the new letter came to light.

Another school – Camden School for Girls – was censured by the admissions watchdog for simply including a letter about donations with their acceptance forms.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Any claim that the school admissions code has been breached will be investigated.”

Schools Week has been told the schools adjudicator has limited powers to investigate historic arrangements.

An expert said the matter would fall under the secretary of state’s remit – to investigate whether the school has breached its funding arrangement. So far no objection has been lodged.