24 lose school places in Edinburgh ‘catchment fraud’ crackdown

James Gillespie's ... one of the schools targeted by catchment fraudsters. File picture: Jon Savage

James Gillespie's ... one of the schools targeted by catchment fraudsters. File picture: Jon Savage

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TWENTY-FOUR families have lost school places after being caught cheating to get their children into popular institutions.

This year has seen 13 instances of catchment fraud at high schools and 11 at primaries, as education chiefs stepped up a crackdown.

The figures mark an increase on last year, when six families were caught providing false statements and documentation to secure class places.

The council’s fraud team carried out 1500 checks which included all potential S1 places at three of the city’s most popular high schools – James Gillespie’s, Boroughmuir and St Thomas of Aquins.

James Gillespie’s was top of the list for fraud attempts, with seven places refused. However, frauds were also uncovered at five other secondary schools including the Royal High.

False claims were also made by parents wishing to enrol children at eight primary schools including South Morningside, James Gillespie’s, Bruntsfield and Sciennes.

This resulted in the offer of places for the 2016-17 session being withdrawn, with other families dropping their requests once they discovered they were being investigated. In several cases families were also found to be fraudulently claiming council tax benefits and have been forced to repay money.

Examples of catchment fraud included a family living in a neighbouring authority and trying to get their child into a city primary, another claiming they lived at an address close to a school when they lived four miles away, parents making up false leases and others claiming to live in homes being rented to students.

Checks are still being made on other schools and it is believed that at least six require further investigation.

Councillor Paul Godzik, education leader, said: “We know this is an issue that concerns many parents and we take it very seriously. We warn parents every year that we are actively looking into catchment fraud and if we believe there is a possibility that fraud is being committed we will investigate. If we discover this to be the case we will withdraw the school place.

“By working with the fraud team we are able to access a greater range of information, including credit checks.”

He added: “All our schools provide a great education and I would urge parents to visit their local schools to see for themselves the fantastic learning environments rather than trying to commit fraud.”

Alex Ramage, parent representative on the city council’s education committee, welcomed the crackdown.

He said: “There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence for this happening and it looks likely to get worse with rising rolls.

“Most parents play by the rules but this is the only way to ensure fairness.”

Green education spokeswoman Cllr Melanie Main said it was “important” that parents know the council will deal “firmly and consistently” with catchment fraud.

“Every time someone gets a place under false pretences it is someone else losing out,” she said. “But at the same time, there is clearly also a need to communicate what is positive about all of the city’s schools, so that parents don’t feel the need to go to such lengths to get into some schools.”

Parents registering for a school place must provide a council tax demand notice and recent utility bill.

If moving home, they need to provide proof of purchase and their tenancy agreement. If they are moving to a different Edinburgh address, they will also need to provide proof of sale or termination of lease.

Pupils moving from primary to secondary are allocated a place based on the current address information held by their school.

Spot checks are set to be carried out to ensure this is accurate.

john.connell@jpress.co.uk