Nowadays, for children to be admitted to a given state school, it is quite often necessary for them to live within that school’s catchment area. This often poses problems because of the varying educational standards among schools. Parents are naturally concerned about their children’s education and want them to attend the best possible school. Sometimes, they even move house in order to ensure they are in the catchment area for their preferred school. Very often, the demand for places at good schools far exceeds the number of places available.

Children sometimes live within the catchment area for more than one school. When popular schools are choosing which children to admit, they may have a policy of accepting only those who live within the catchment area of their school alone and excluding those who are also within the catchment area of another school. This can result in a situation where children who live in the catchment area for two schools are not even considered for acceptance, because they have another option. This policy seems to discriminate against families who live in the catchment area for more than one school as their children do not receive the same treatment as other applicants from within the school’s catchment area.

This issue has recently come under the scrutiny of the High Court in a challenge to the Schools Adjudicator, who had decided that a popular West London secondary school’s admission code had indirectly discriminated against poorer families. Drayton Manor High School was accused by Ealing Council of discriminating against children living on nearby council estates because it prioritised places for children who lived nearest to the school. This meant that children who also lived near a less popular school could be denied a place at Drayton Manor. The school argued that if it were to change its admissions policy, equally deprived children living south east of the school could also be disadvantaged.

The High Court ruled in favour of the school. The Adjudicator had made a fundamental error by not taking the school’s submissions into account when upholding the Council’s claim.

This is believed to be the first successful challenge to a decision of the Adjudicator since the new Schools Admissions Code came into force in 2007. Whilst more challenges are expected to emerge, it is not considered likely to open the floodgates owing to the time and money it is necessary to expend in order to bring a case to judicial review.