Should parents be prosecuted for lying to get their child into the school of their choice
Harrow County Council was forced to drop charges of fraud against a mother who was alleged to have lied about where she lived in order to get her son in to the local junior school. But should parents be prosecuted in order to maintain a level playing field or should parents be treated with respect for sending their children in to what can be an unfair system.
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Deterrent to a rising level of fraudulent applications
For certain authorities such as Harrow and Richmond there has been a rise in the number of applications being made fraudulently with possibly no legal counter to stop them. Normally when a school place is offered but the family is discovered to have cheated the system then it's withdrawn. However the Leader of Harrow Council has described that as :"equivalent of saying to someone who's shoplifting - 'put it back on the shelf'" This means that its not a deterrent and that council's need something hard that will stop parents from lying.
Parents may want the best for their children- and this may mean their attempts for them to be accepted in a school with a school with a satisfactory reputation for teaching.
A question of justice
For every parent that does decide to cheat the system and gets away with it there will be a child and a parent who will feel hard done by of no fault of their own because someone has already played the system unfairly. This is equivalent to tax evasion or claiming false allowances as it is taking something that does not rightly belong to them whether it is something tangible or intangible.[[Marek Kohn "Parents' lessons in cheating" http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jul/03/parents-school-places-cheating Accessed 03.07.09]]
Undermines social cohesion
The state system is already under pressure with some of the "best and the brightest" pupils moving away either into the private sector or into the top schools in the borough. Doing this fraudulently exacerbates an already damaging problem that is generating a fragmented society and potentially storing up trouble in the long run. While undermining social cohesion is not a crime the fraud that is being committed is one of a criminal and possibly aggravated nature
Social cohesion doesn't exactly get helped when people are forced together in the worst schools or the ones below average and it's not just the poor ones either. A case on the guardians forum can show that the ones below average. This shows that other problems like bullying can exacerbate problems with social cohesion as it generates negative impressions that children can carry with them as they develop into adulthood.[[ Marek Kohn "Parent's lessons in cheating" http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jul/03/parents-school-places-cheating%5D%5D
Change the system but don't punish the parents
The system as it stands is unfair and there should be alternatives to it. Fiona Millar argues for a "random allocation of places limited to geographical areas". [[Alison Smith "Is there a school place loophole?" BBC Online News http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/8132325.stm Accessed ]] Others have different solutions that could help the system Shouldn't we look on these things as symptoms of ailing system and work on improving the system itself rather than as criminal offences that should be punished in a court of law. [[http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jul/03/parents-school-places-cheating]] Admittedly there might be problems with transferring pupils.
Even if the system is unfair it should be at least respected as it was passed by an elected government. Marek Kohn puts it best :"If we're forced into a game that nobody wants to play, we should at least be playing by the rules." [[ Marek Kohn "Parents lessons in cheating" Guardian Unlimited http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jul/03/parents-school-places-cheating%5D%5D This quote demonstrates the problem. If parents break the rules repeatedly then the system could effectively be broken. Furthermore it would generate resentment that not only is the system is unjust that it is skewed in favour of those who know how to twist the rules to their benefit.
A parent's duty is to promote and protect their own child's interest and that involves using loop holes
A parent is naturally driven to go for to the best interests of his or her own child rather than the needs of other children. Given this instinct is normally regarded as a positive one rather than one that is negative as demonstrated by the media outraged over the case of Shannon Matthews shouldn't we be praising it rather than treating it as negative. Also shouldn't we be pushing to reform the education system so it isn't in the interests of parents to lie in a unfair system. Until then if there are loopholes then parents have a right to exploit those loopholes to the best of those abilities for the sake of their children possibly performing better than they did.
Nobody has a right to abuse a system, regardless of their intentions. The entire point of the schools system is that it is as fair as possible, some people will lose out, but only slightly. At the end of the day, if the child is bright, they will do well, if not, they will fail.
Would be an over-reaction that would harm the child
Quite frankly the legal system has enough on it's plate (an exploding prison population)without yet more criminal offences being added to the statute books and this one is already. Furthermore the penalties people could have faced a fine of a thousand pounds or imprisonment for one year (not counting early release served for good behaviour) would have been severe for the child particularly if the parent is a single one or the child is in it's first years either of junior or secondary school as he or she struggles to deal with the pressures of settling down and settling in. This is an over-reaction that risks making martyrs out of people who don't deserve to be.[[Tim Ross and Peter Dominicizak http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23715103-details/Case+against+%27false+address%27+schoolboy%27s+mother+dropped/article.do Accessed 06.07.09]]
If something is wrong, it is wrong; if the legal system is unable to cope, then it must be reformed, the answer is not to deflect attention away from what we deem to be the crime. The refusal to prosecute encourages other parents to do similarly, exacerbating the issue. It won't go away if we ignore it.
The penalties, whilst harsh, are a deterrent. If they weren't sufficiently injurious, the crime would be carried out wantonly. It's admirable to mean well, but that doesn't make their actions right.
What do you think?