School admissions will become more unfair for parents

Fiona Millar's picture
 10
Parents may find the school admissions system becomes more unfair and difficult to navigate as a result of key proposals in the Coalition’s Education Bill - not just my view, but the view of the people who chair local authority admissions forums.

The abolition of the forums, which currently bring together school governors, parents, churches and local authorities in a statutory body to monitor admissions in their areas, is to be debated this week. But Comprehensive Future, which campaigns for fair admissions to all schools, has surveyed admission forum chairs across the country and found that a majority opposed abolition at a time when more and more schools are going to be given control over which children they admit, as numbers of academies and free schools expand.

Concerns raised by admission forum chairs were that:

“Admission processes will become more school-centric rather than parent-centric”.

 

There would be a “free for all on admissions”.

Abolition would lead to “less transparency in the admissions system”

“Schools will select by ability, the weak and disadvantaged will lose out.”

Abolition would cause “chaos and unfairness and go against the concept of the Big Society”.

“Abolition would result in a more piecemeal approach losing an independent and representative body. This could conceivably impact on fairness and equity of access.

“Abolition would lead to inequitable, opaque admission arrangements that would in turn produce poor outcomes for many children and parents”

Admission forums were recommended by the School Admissions Code which came into effect in 1999. Local Authorities were encouraged to set them up voluntarily so that there could be consultation and discussion about local admissions arrangements and in the hope that consensus would be found between schools and the local authorities. In the White Paper preceding the Education Act 2002 Act the Government said that admission forums had played a valuable role in making sure admission arrangements served the needs of local children and parents  and they were made compulsory in the Education Act 2002.

The constitution of the forum has changed over the years but has always reflected the the local community. Current regulations stipulate that there should be no more than 20 members with at least one representative of community, voluntary aided, voluntary controlled, foundation and academies and CTCs in the relevant area, representatives of each of the religious bodies involved in any of the local schools, at least one parent and at least one community representative. School representatives must be heads or governors but not local authority governors.  These are all volunteers and LA officers provide the administrative support.

It is becoming clear that the changes in the Education Bill risk creating an admissions system that is chaotic, unfair and reduces choice for many families who may find it harder to get into their first choice of school. The government is also planning to shorten and simplify the School Admissions Code in the near future and the Education Bill, currently in its Committee Stage, changes the powers of the Chief Schools Adjudicator, who currently monitors compliance with the Code. Some respondents to the Comprehensive Future survey also called for the powers of the Chief Adjudicator to be strengthened. At the Local Schools Network we believe there should be strong independent oversight of admissions at a local level.  The Admissions Forum is a local body made up of local people and is perfectly placed to provide this oversight. They should be  given more powers rather than be abolished

You can read the full details of the questionnaire sent out by Comprehensive Future, and the details responses here Admission forums questionnaire report final.
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Comments

Francis Gilbert's picture
Tue, 29/03/2011 - 08:02

This is so depressing Fiona. Has the government not listened to the memoranda submitted by Comprehensive Future? (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmpublic/education/mem...)
This is the KEY issue that our schools face and it's not really about extra resources, it's about fairness and addressing the chronic social segregation that afflicts our schools system -- and our society!

Adrian Elliott's picture
Tue, 29/03/2011 - 11:28

This really is an excellent document and the authors are to be congratulated on the work put into it. I was on the admissions forum for York for several years, representing a diocese ,and it gave me a tremendous insight into the problems of other schools around admissions - problems which I had previously been unaware of.

I understood the present government,unlike the last Conservative government, approved of collaboration amongst schools.I think the abolition of admissions forums is a major step in the opposite direction.

Ian Taylor's picture
Tue, 29/03/2011 - 12:12

New Free School, Langley Hall Primary Academy, has a published admissions policy giving priority to those who pay to send their children to the attached private nursery. So much for open access to Free Schools! Can this be legal? http://bit.ly/fg1wOp

Allan Beavis's picture
Tue, 29/03/2011 - 13:46

What I find really worrying is that the vast majority of parents will be unaware that the key proposals in the Education Bill are even being debated. So they will be unaware that there is a current mission by this government to disguise the fact that their education policy reduces choice and discourages equality and the way they are concealing this is by promoting the models of “academies” and “free schools” by suggesting that they are an empowering alternative for parents and pupils.

This is the myth that is being disseminated. But the abolition of local admissions forums, the reduction in the role that LAs would play in overseeing all aspects – admissions and complaints procedures included – of the schools in their area, the pruning of the powers of the Chief Schools Adjudicator, whose job it was to uphold fairness actually means that parents will find themselves faced with less choice in finding a local school suitable for their child. That is not empowering and the sense of impotency will be reinforced when parents discover, far too late, that their complaints are no longer to be efficiently and fairy dealt with by the local LA, but by the very man who took away the committees and organizations originally set up to help them - the Secretary of State for Education himself.

Scratch beneath the surface of the intoxicating hyperbole of how progressive academies and free schools are and it is clear that they serve the interests of very few, mainly the most vocal, the most self serving and those who believe that education should be exclusively academic. But academic success is important to all schools and it is odious for academy and free school supporters to portray all existing comprehensive schools as denying their duty to provide an acceptable education to their students. Some do better, academically, than others but they all in their present form provide an education for pupils from all backgrounds and all abilities and they also give emphasis to vocational subjects and qualifications for those students who benefit from those. Education is a human right for everybody.

I wonder how many parents who are surveyed about the education system really understand the motives consequences of the government’s push for their new flagship schools, particularly when it comes to covert selection, exclusion and power over choice passing from parents onto schools? How many who support their local school opting for academy status wonder what will happen when the cash runs out (which it will, given the amputations to all public services) – can they go back under the protective wing of their LA. Will the LA still exist in 7 years time which is how long it takes to revert?

Educated and reasonably well informed parents are confused about the changes underway. They are forming opinions based very much on conjecture and the hyperbole of government spin and high profile supporters in the media. Adjacent to this, there is a haphazard approach to the future of education from the coalition government and their lack of transparency either masks a fundamental lack of understanding about what they are doing or a deliberate attempt to hoodwink the public.

Either way, the proposed changes to the Education Bill will not help those most in need. And the most in need are not those from the chattering classes I’m afraid, it is those who don’t believe or feel that they have a voice and it is the interests of those people that admissions forums, Parent Teacher Associations, Teachers Unions, Local Education Authorities, the Chief Schools Adjudicator represent. With their roles diminished or abolished, education will be segregated, social divisions will become wider and resentment amongst the disadvantaged more entrenched.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 29/03/2011 - 15:02

Langley Hall Primary Academy was featured on the Daily Politics Show 29 March 2011.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-12895541

The school will have a paid-for nursery attached and the admission criteria includes those who have a place at this nursery. Parents will get priority if they have paid for admission to the nursery.

The published admission criteria contradicts the verbal assurance given on TV that those at the nursery would not get preferential treatment.

Both comments can't be correct.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 29/03/2011 - 17:44

The story of Langley Hall Primary Academy gets even stranger. The following report from a local paper shows a different building to the one featured in the TV programme.

http://www.localberkshire.co.uk/news/roundup/articles/2011/03/06/50970-t...

Note the comments after the article, many asking if there is a need for another primary school in the area.

Rosie's picture
Thu, 04/10/2012 - 16:30

I don't understand, the building pictured is the same one that Langley Hall Primary Academy was set up in, and it is also the same one featured in the BBC TV footage! It is a lovely building. As far as I am aware, the local council identified a need for more primary school places in the area - it was reported.

Sarah's picture
Tue, 29/03/2011 - 20:43

Langley Hall will be operating outside of the admission code if they give priority to those attending the nursery. Maintained schools are not allowed to do this for children attending nursery classes - parents have to reapply for entry into Reception and cannot be given priority for places based on previous nursery attendance.

The weakening (for that's what it is) of the admissions code will take school admissions back at least 12 years to the days when schools were able to 'interview' parents and put off those they did not wish to apply. There will be no teeth for the local authority to address unfair admission arrangements other than referring the school to a (weakened) schools adjudicator. The DfE have been consulting with a small group of stakeholders on the admissions code and it's very clear from the messages emerging from that group that the Secretary of State wants to 'throw the system open' and allow individual schools as much freedom as possible, even if it's at the expense of children. It's clear that senior civil servants have been told to 'simplify' the code to the point of having to reduce it to a 20 page document. This will make it completely worthless and unworkable as a means for anyone to hold schools to account for their admission arrangements. The SoS does not appear to be listening to stakeholders who are universally telling civil servants that this will be a retrograde step.

Fiona Millar's picture
Wed, 30/03/2011 - 08:19

Other parents in the area can challenge these admissions criteria with the Office of the Schools Adjudicator.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 30/03/2011 - 14:34

There are other concerns about Langley Hall Primary Academy besides the flouting of admission codes.

Langley Hall is a listed building which has been used for teaching before. It needs Listed Building Consent for any alterations. Planning permission was requested for D1 use (includes education) by the prospective owner on 26 November 2010 but no reference was made to the building's listed status. The planning application says there will be no building apart from tarmac outside. Are the children going to be taught in the existing classrooms with no alteration? This must be so if there is no listed planning permission. In which case are the classrooms and other facilities suitable?

http://www.sbcplanning.co.uk/search.php

The upkeep of listed buildings is very expensive. It seems foolhardy for the DfE to finance a school in a listed building at a time when other schools are having to cut back.

Then there's the question of the nursery, about which there is no information on the school's website (except an application form). The nursery is private, so how much DfE money, if any, will go towards this private facility?

This appears to be another example of a free school being set up where the financial costs are not being publicised.

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