Schools

Grammar school told to stop demanding tenancy documents 

Rules to crackdown on admissions fraud asked for papers from 'approved letting agent' to 'ensure parents had link to area'

Rules to crackdown on admissions fraud asked for papers from 'approved letting agent' to 'ensure parents had link to area'

16 Sep 2023, 7:00

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A grammar school has been told to stop demanding parents show tenancy documents as it could disadvantage low-income families.

Entry requirements for the Royal Grammar School (RGS) in High Wycombe said parents leasing properties in its catchment area had to prove they would stay at the address for the first six months of their child’s studies.  

They would also “have to provide a tenancy agreement from an approved letting agent”. 

RGS bosses insisted the requirements would help them to crackdown on “fraudulent applications” and ensure “families continued to have a link to the area” once their child started year 7.  

Parents admit breaking application rules

A survey last year by property website Zoopla found a quarter of parents admitted breaking school application rules to secure places.

Eight per cent said they temporarily rented a second home within a catchment area in their effort to get their child into their preferred primary or secondary.

But an anonymous objection claiming that “many genuine tenants“ would be unable to meet the criteria was lodged with the Office of the Schools Adjudicator.

“The policy requires a tenancy agreement provided by an approved letting agent. This requirement excludes and disadvantages tenants who rent directly from a private landlord,” it argued. 

Grammar school: ‘Only way to ensure parents have link to area’

“The only practical way those who are already renting can comply is to leave their current property and move into one that is rented through an approved letting agent.”

The objector also stated that to meet RGS requirements, tenancies “must start before September 2023 and end after March 2025”, which “exceeds the length of standard fixed-term tenancies” that were often between six and 12 months. 

During his investigation into the complaint, adjudicator Robert Cawley found just two of Buckinghamshire’s 12 other grammars had similar entry requirements. 

RGS stressed the schools decided “this was the only way to ensure that families continued to have a link to the area once their child had commenced an education” with them. 

It had seen “several annual examples” of families living in the catchment area when they applied to the school, “only to find that they live many miles away once their son has started” at the secondary. 

Criteria branded ‘unreasonable’

“We strive to be a selective school for local boys and we currently struggle to meet the needs of the catchment area.”

Buckinghamshire County Council – which coordinates admissions on RGS’s behalf – told Cawley “that the level of checking of addresses is constrained by the sheer volume of the applications” it dealt with. 

Meanwhile, the authority said it did not expect proof “the tenant will be living at the address at least six months after the proposed admission”. Instead, it asked for “a current energy bill to evidence continued residence… from the point of a place being offered”. 

Cawley concluded there was “no lawful basis for imposing” the rule, which was “concerned about fraudulent applications”. 

‘Grammar school places threatened by rule-breakers’

Dr Mark Fenton
Mark Fenton

He also said the requirement for an approved letting agent was “unreasonable”, as it did not allow applicants “to provide evidence from a range of sources that they genuinely reside in the catchment area”. 

“I have also found that the arrangements disadvantage unfairly a particular group, namely lower-income applicants, because they are less likely to be in a position to dictate the type of rental agreements they enter into.”

The schools admissions code states that RGS must revise its arrangements in the next two months. 

Mark Fenton, CEO of the Grammar School Heads Association, said schools are “quite right to take action on behalf of the vast majority of parents who play fair and whose child’s place at their preferred local school is threatened by others who choose [to] flout the rules”.

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