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Should councils sue parents who lie to get their children into good schools?

Harrow Council has dropped a prosecution under the Fraud Act against Mrinal Patel after she applied to get her son in Pinner Park First School. This is a schools for 3-8 year-olds which is judged "outstanding" by Ofsted. Mrinal Patel denies lying and the case was dropped after Harrow Council decided the legal costs would be too great in going ahead with it.

Are parents morally justified in lying to get their children into a good school? Lying about their address? Lying about their religion? The answer is no. But it is a dilemma. The sort of issue that could crop up on BBC Radio 4's The Moral Maze. In the past Michael Gove would have been one of the panelists pontificating on the matter. Let us hope that next year he will be in Government and able to tackle the situation which causes it to arise. Gove proposed to allow huge numbers of state funded, independently run, new schools on the Swedish model.

What should Councils do in the mean time? In the interests of fairness there does need to be some vetting so those using bogus addresses are spotted and turned down. But prosecuting such parents is going too far. Councils should instead take note of their desperation. They should tackle the underlying causes. They should do what they can to start good new schools and allow existing oversubscribed schools to expand. This will mean taking some tough decisions to close bad schools. However bad a school is, however low the school roll, however poor its results, there will invariably be protests at the Town Hall if a proposal is made to close it. Councillors should persist because it is the right thing to do. This is the way to deal with the problem - not hounding Mrinal Patel through the courts.


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