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Reception admissions - local academy ‘poaching’ families?

Discussion in 'Headteachers' started by zen_head, Mar 10, 2019.

  1. zen_head

    zen_head New commenter

    I’d be interested to hear the views of other HTs on this matter, and also to find out what other LAs do.

    I’m HT of a maintained primary. Last week 2 parents, both of whom have named our school 1st in their preferences for a Reception place for Sep, said they have received letters from a local academy. The letters offer a “welcome to our school”, promote the school by commenting on strengths etc, urge parents to choose the school and mention that places are available, and invite parents to a meeting to see the school and meet staff etc. Since then, we’ve discovered that other parents have received these letters, including parents with children in other schools. We know this because some of these parents have children in our a Nursery...however there will be other families, in other local private nurseries, so will have received these letters, and therefore we do not know who they are.

    When I rang our LA admissions dept, they said that they give all contact details to academies, in February, because the academy is the ‘admissions authority’. However, as a maintained school, we get no contact information at all, and simply have to wait till mid April to see which families are allocated to us by the LA.

    Last year, our Reception admissions plummeted, and obviously that hit the budget. I though it was a local birthdate issue...not so sure now. I had no idea last year that the LA was handing out contact information to academies.

    Presumably, the academy should use the info simply to produce ranked lists, in line with the pre-derptermined admissions criteria? Using the information to try to poach families who would otherwise have gone to other schools is surely unethical...perhaps unlawful...I’m sure it isn’t part of the Admissions Code.

    Because we are so close, geographically, to this particular academy, it’s obvious that when parents make their 1st, 2nd and 3rd preferences, both schools could feature on the same list (as well as a couple of other local schools). Therefore, a parent could name us 1st preference, but the academy 2nd or 3rd. Then, the academy is given the contact details of ALL 1st, 2nd and 3rd preference families, and are using this information to make personal contact with families - in effect to ‘poach’ them.

    I’ve heard that other LAs, realising the risk, do not give out contact details to academies, and that the LA retains the role of sorting admissions for all schools, or provides anonymised information. Could readers comment on what happens in your LA, please?

    Apologies for the length of the post - it’s a rather complex issue to describe.

    I’d be grateful for any insights, from colleagues who may have experience of this, or who know more about how school admissions work.

  2. install

    install Star commenter

    I am not an ht, but I have experience of working with hts..

    Do you have other schools in your area that this also hits ? Could you link up with them and complain/query together. Do you have a copy of the letter ? Sounds very unfair, underhand and wrong. Has it reached the official deadline yet ? Has the procedure changed from last year and the year before? Why hasn't it been agreed and why have you not been consulted?
  3. zen_head

    zen_head New commenter

    Yes I have a copy of the letter. Yes other local schools are affected - that has been confirmed by another HT. I have been in touch with other maintained schools, and several HT's have expressed concerns to the LA. The deadline for Reception application was in January - all prospective parents have to apply via the LA. The LA used to keep that information to itself, and organise the admissions and allocations themselves. But, our LA have given the names and contact details to academies - this has been going on for a couple of years I think, but I found out about it just last week. We were not consulted, even though we're an LA maintained school. Yes I agree - what this school is doing is underhand, unfair and wrong, and could decimate admissions to other schools (leading to budget cuts and redundancies).
  4. install

    install Star commenter

    I would recommend a meeting of all the heads concerned with the LA asap. Do you all meet anyway on a regular basis ? I would also contact your Union to see what they advise.
  5. zen_head

    zen_head New commenter

    Thanks for your advice. I have made contact with other HTs. I have also contacted my Union, and other staff have contacted theirs.
    install likes this.
  6. Wotton

    Wotton Lead commenter

    So the LA gives the academy in question the addresses of the parents who have children approaching school age. Have I got that right. Surely they shouldn't be giving out this information. If the academy administers it's own allocation of places then the parent would apply there as they would be well aware of the schools in their local area.
    Stiltskin likes this.
  7. zen_head

    zen_head New commenter

    Yes, the LA is providing all academies with names and addresses, tel nos, etc, of parents. Even though these are parents that have named maintained schools as 1st preference (and the academy 2nd or even 3rd). This particular academy has then made contact with parents, in effect trying to poach children by trying to persuade the parents to sign up with the academy and reject the maintained school. This will have a catastrophic impact on our budget.
  8. Wotton

    Wotton Lead commenter

    That is so wrong. Have parents given permission for their details to be passed on like that. If it were me, as a parent, I'd be complaining to the LA about their actions.
    Stiltskin likes this.
  9. Stiltskin

    Stiltskin Star commenter

    I'm surprised if all the parents have allowed contact details to be shared, but if they have I can't see a reason for the LA not to also give that information to your school, if asked. Have you asked for them?
  10. zen_head

    zen_head New commenter

    Completely agree with you. The parents who have received these letters - and there are many of them - certainly aren’t happy that their personal details have been released by the LA, and that the academy is using their information in this unscrupulous and underhand way. Some of the parents have said they intend to complain to the LA, and a couple mentioned that they will be looking at this as a GDPR breach by the LA. I heard today that some of the parents are planing to contact the local newspaper too. They are really upset, partly because they at first thought they were losing their 1st preference school, but also because they’ve cottoned on to the data protection aspects of this, as well as the underhand tactics of the academy.
  11. zen_head

    zen_head New commenter

    The parents had no idea that their contact details had been shared by the LA. The LA just went ahead and gave out their contact details, without consulting the parents. Needless to say, the parents are outraged, and are citing a possible GDPR breach by the LA. Yes I have asked the LA for the same information, simply out of fairness, but the person dealing with this at the LA has refused. The academy (or academies) have also used the parent data in ways that are outside of the admissions process, so there are possible GDPR breaches there too, and I know that some of the parents intend to pursue that.
  12. Wotton

    Wotton Lead commenter

    I hope all the parents contact the LA in writing quoting GDPR. Good Luck.
  13. Rott Weiler

    Rott Weiler Star commenter Forum guide

    Hard to see how a GDPR breach could have occurred. The parents whose details have been shared all named the academy as one of their choices didn't they? So the sharing of information is likely to be deemed to have be something they have consented to by naming the academy as one of their preferred schools. I know parents can get outraged by the oddest things sometimes, but really, they are outraged by their details being given to a school they applied for a place at?

    I can't see how the academy's letter can change the school they will be offered a place at on primary national offer day in April. Their choices were fixed at application closing date. They could reject the offer of a place at your school after offer day but they would then risk not a getting a place at any of their 1st/2nd/3rd preferences.

    And why would parents be more likely to want to go make the academy their 1st choice now when they could have made it their 1st choice last autumn when they originally applied but didn't? Has anything changed? It's hard to see how this will have a catastrophic impact on your budget unless you believe that parents who made you 1st choice when they applied will change their minds and reject the offer at your school just because the academy has mailshotted them.

    The academy sounds even more undersubscribed than you are!
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2019
  14. Rott Weiler

    Rott Weiler Star commenter Forum guide

    I meant to add that if anyone has breached GDPR it would be the academy not the LA so your outraged parents are firing at the wrong target. The LA has to provide an Own Admissions Authority such as the academy with details of all applicants, including their names and addresses, whatever preference they gave it, so that the academy can rank applicants in order of priority under the academy's own admissions criteria. You might be able to argue that academy breached GDPR for using that list for marketing purposes, but the parents need to complain to the academy, not the LA. The LA didn't send out the letters or authorise them, the LA doesn't control the academy, the LA does not have regulatory oversight of the academy's admissions procedures.
  15. zen_head

    zen_head New commenter

  16. zen_head

    zen_head New commenter

    Thankyou for your input, and for the reassurances as well - much appreciated. Yes, maybe I was allowing this situation to get me down a bit last night when I wrote the comments above! Hopefully it won't affect the parents who have already chosen our school...we hope they won't be swayed. Still, it is surely unfair that this academy can aggressively market their school, to named parents (some of whom have named us 1st, 2nd or 3rd choice), using their addresses and even telephone numbers, and yet there's nothing we can do at all, because we haven't got any of the contact information - not even of our 1st preference families. One dangers is that because they're getting invitations and 'welcome to our school' letters from the academy, some parents may wonder if their place at our school is under threat....and of course they won't hear from us because we done know who they are! The academy should surely only be using the personal data to produce ranked lists of families, according to pre-determined admissions criteria, rather than using the data to make contact with families - a GDPR breach, surely.
  17. zen_head

    zen_head New commenter

    Yes, we agree that the academy has breached GDPR - section 5.1 apparently! You note that the LA has to provide Own Admissions Authorities with personal details - I understand that, but I know there are LAs where that doesn't happen. I say that because we have heard - on good authority (from heads of schools in other LAs) that LAs in our local area, though not our LA, obviously, realising the risk, have provided anonymised data to non-maintained schools, enough info to allow them to rank the families and fulfill their duties as an Admissions Authority, or in some cases thew LA has retained it's role in terms of organising all admissions. I think to do this, all schools in an LA would probably have to collectively agree with it - but then that is surely a sign that all of those schools want a fair system.
  18. Rott Weiler

    Rott Weiler Star commenter Forum guide

    GDPR 5.1? Well yes, if it is a breach of GDPR it would be a breach of 5.1 as 5.1 is the all-embracing Article setting out the principles of authorised data processing. Every GDPR breach is a breach of Article 5.1. 5.1.b is most likely to have been breached (if any breach has occurred). That's the sub-section that says that data collected for one purpose cannot be used for another. But unless a data lawyer has studied the LA's detailed documentation and what it is parent's gave consent to when they applied you cannot conclude there has been a GDPR breach.

    It would be interesting to me to see how OAA schools rank applicants if the applications are anonymised. We rejected that approach in my LA. If it's anonymous how, for example, does the OAA school check claims of sibling priority? How does a Faith school link the data from the LA to the Priest's form the school has received separately? Does the LA have to redact the medical/professional evidence submitted in support of social/medical priority applications?

    "in some cases the LA has retained it's role in terms of organising all admissions." I not sure what you mean by that. The LA must co-ordinate all admissions in its area, including for OAA schools. But an LA cannot retain the right to make admissions decisons on behalf of OAA schools (although it is possible for an individual OAA school to enter into an agreement with LA to do that. Some VA schools in my LA do that, I've not heard of an academy that did it.)

    Maybe the heads in the LA should be getting together to come up with a plan to tackle what seems to be the underlying problem for you (as it is in so many LAs), too many surplus school places. It's painful, we're dealing with it at the moment. But if you have parts of your LA where school are only half filling Reception they cannot all be financially sustainable. No amount of marketing - 'poaching' if you prefer - is going to change that.
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2019
    Pomza likes this.
  19. abacus1982

    abacus1982 Established commenter

    I don't think it's a breach of GDPR more that it is not in the spirit of admissions. Voluntary Aided schools and many Catholic schools will set their own admissions criteria. When the list of people who have applied come in the school will be given a list of addresses which go alongside supplementary information forms (SIFS). This is then used by the school to "rank" the applicants according to the admissions criteria. Addresses are needed when this ranking is done. The ranking list is then sent back to the LA for the offering of places. At no point does the school know which choice they are for the parent when they do this ranking.

    I would say that potentially nothing has been done which is technically wrong but it is certainly not, in my opinion, fair or best practice at all. As a parent if I got a begging letter from an academy it would put me off that school anyway!
  20. Pomza

    Pomza Star commenter

    If parents have provided their details to the academy in question by naming it as a 2nd/3rd choice, I doubt any GDPR ‘breach’ could be successfully pursued.

    Also don’t see anything wrong with marketing a school - in areas where schools are underrecruiting in YR, filling as many vacancies as possible is critically important.

    As alluded to above, maybe a reduction in PAN might be appropriate for some school/s in your area.

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