Leading education charity warns about new 'simplified' admissions

Fiona Millar's picture
 11
Changes to schools admissions procedures could make the system less fair, according to the Advisory Centre for Education. This charity (ACE) provides independent advice and help for parents in areas like admissions, exclusions and special needs so haas a great deal of experience in the real problems parents can face. It believes that a simplied Code of Practice on Admissions, which the government is promising, will make it easier for schools to cherry pick the students who are easiest to teach.

On this site we have been warning for some time that reduced powers for the Schools Adjudicator, a slimmed down Code and less local scrutiny will not help the most disadvantaged. The new procedures will be complicated by the fact that for free schools and academies, compliance with the Code of Practice can only be enforced by the Secretary of State, which means parents in those schools have little local redress if they feel their neighbourhood schoools are behaving unfairly. Michael Gove wants every school in the country to become independent, but the idea that he will be able to personally step in and sort out this sort of injustice is laughable. Schools will be able to get away with a range of unfair practices and no one will be able to do anything about it.

 
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Francis Gilbert's picture
Sat, 16/04/2011 - 09:52

Gove is playing politics with admissions: he's certainly making it easier for covert selection now, and yet is appearing "on the surface" to be presiding over a fair system. It may further his political career, but it's unfair on our children.

Billy no Mates's picture
Sat, 16/04/2011 - 10:33

The schools admissions code has never been fair. What about selection by 11+? Grammar schools aren’t noted for abiding by the code (I can cite several instances of discrimination). ACE are pretty useless on selective admissions and the same can be said for the LGA – limited powers, etc., etc. The Beeb also have selective hearing on this. The time is never right!

Allan Beavis's picture
Sat, 16/04/2011 - 14:35

It's a gradual and stealthy erosion of rights.

The ACE give valuable support and advice but this can only be from within the framework of existing Education Law and the Codes of Practice. A fuller code, overseen and fairly implemented by the LA, with further powers of investigation redress in the hands of the Schools Adjudicator ensure that parents and students can be reassured that their concerns have been properly and fully concluded.

The problem with a reduced version is the danger that the lack of detail and clarity will encourage abuse of the system and it is likely that it it the most informed and vocal who will get the admissions result they want. The disadvantaged will be pushed aside.

Instead of the code ensuring fair practice applicable to all, it will be seen to favour an elite and many parents won't even know that the government has designed this until it is far too late. In the short term, the outcome of similar complaints will be different, depending on whether it originated in a LA maintained school or a free school/Academy. This is not consistent and will divide schools and communities. In the long term, if all schools become independent as Gove envisions, comes the realisation that the purpose of streamlining the code will not have been to simplify a system or make it easier to understand, but to create loopholes which schools could exploit to discriminate.

With the nuisance of full procedure and impartiality removed, justice will favour those whom Gove deems deserving. The disadvantaged will get pushed aside again. Education policy under the Coalition is promoted as a radical solution to improving the education and lives of all, especially the most disadvantaged. In practice, it will exclude them, as there is every reason to believe that government policy will now allow schools, increasingly under pressure to "perform" and outdo each other in examination results statistics, to admit who they want.

Our rights are being eroded.

If so how does this square with Michael Gove’s claim that all free schools must abide by the Code of Practice on School Admissions, which rules out use of references, school reports and selection by ability( in all but existing grammar schools)?

Allan Beavis's picture
Sat, 16/04/2011 - 14:37

Sorry - last small paragraph cut and pasted in by mistake. Please ignore.

H & F Parent's picture
Sat, 16/04/2011 - 20:02

One small contrary point: a London maintained school was prevented by the adjudicator from interviewing prospective pupils and their parents a few years ago.

The interviews were deemed to be an unfair practice and the governors lost the case on appeal.

It now appears that the school intake is *more* middle-class than it was before interviews were banned.

Interviewing the children, it seems, gave those less able to fill in the application forms more of a chance to express themselves in a one-to-one situation.

There isn't an easy way to "fix" schools' admission processes. Although I doubt Gove has the first idea what he is doing anyway.

Billy no Mates's picture
Sat, 16/04/2011 - 23:19

“The ACE give valuable support and advice but this can only be from within the framework of existing Education Law and the Codes of Practice.”

I do appreciate that there are restraints so apologise for not giving this much thought – it’s easy to be cynical having passed through Sendist, ACE, Ipsea, LawWorks, Bar Pro Bono, local authority, DCSF, governing bodies, LGA, etc. At the end of our debacle I couldn’t help thinking that legislation only serves to protect the establishment – I got absolutely nowhere. I feel Education Law and the Codes of Practice aren’t worth a zot as they are rarely enforced with rigor. The same will most likely be true for a slimmed down version of the Admissions Code.

In retrospect, I should have left well alone. The hypocrisy of academic selection is part of my DNA now – my daughters have grown up in my ‘absence’ and educational neglect continues in England.

For any parents out there thinking of taking on the system, leave well alone. Spend time with your children instead.

Tokyo Nambu's picture
Sun, 17/04/2011 - 08:02

There's that old Woody Allen gag, isn't there: "the food here is terrible // Yes, and the portions are so small''?

Simultaneously claiming that local schools are excellent and that admissions systems are corrupt seems almost as contradictory. If the state is operating an estate of excellent schools, then (aside from transport) it really shouldn't matter which you go to. The focus made by campaigners on admission systems is an admission that in fact some schools are weak. If the estate contains a proportion of weak schools, then the admission system is always going to fail some people by sending them to those weak schools, and all you are doing is moving around who is failed. If the estate consists of good schools, then the admission system is not a major issue. Arguments about "improving" the admission system implies that you want to send group X to bad schools rather than group Y: a better campaign would be to render the admission system less important.

georgina emmanuel's picture
Sun, 17/04/2011 - 11:06

Billy No Mates: I fully understand your despair but what is promised for the future of admissions under this Government, seriously affects some of the most vulnerable children in the country. These children don't always have people to fight for them or even parents with whom they can spend time. So fighting for them doesn't seem to me to be an option.

Tokyo Nambu: You are right that the principle of good schools for all would render concerns about admissions systems redundant but sadly we are not in that happy situation. There is a huge variation in standards in schools across the UK and the current admissions system being debated would appear to threaten an even deeper rift between good schools and failing schools.

Fiona: Any chance that you could run something in the Observer on the Equality Act that came into force on 1st October 2010? There are clear guidelines on admissions to schools. For example it clearly states that schools must not place terms on a person's admission to a school which are discriminatory. Discriminatory reasons may include: "Refusing to admit a disabled pupil with behavioural difficulties because you are concerned they will be disruptive" and "refusing to admit a child for whom English is a second language." In terms of admissions information, an example is "A school whose catchment area in inhabited predominantly by people for whom Bengali is a first language produces its prosepctus only in English. This may suggest that only pupils for whom English is a first language are welcome at the school. If this resulted in Bengali parents not applying to the school, this is likely to be unlawful discrimination."

Schools can already be quite astute when it comes to avoiding taking pupils in these categories. For example, academies have some kind of get-out clause for admitting potentially disruptive pupils if they have been in operation for less then two years. I am aware of one instance where this get-out clause was used to get rid of a pupil who had not done anything worthy even of a three-day exclusion but whose behaviour was considered to be low-level disruptive. The head used this get-out clause to get rid of him.

In terms of pupils who do not speak much or any English, I fear schools will use Cameron's recent rant about immigration - and also his response to ( I think it was) Damian Green in Parliament when he agreed with Damian that it was a parent's responsibility to ensure their children spoke English - to refuse admission to these children. One stance a few schools already take is to say that they are 'full'. This reason can be supported where schools have an 'official' number of places but tend to take more pupils. Once a pupil comes a long whom they don't want, they simply refer to their official places figure.

This all sounds terrible but sadly it happens already and, I fear, it is set to get much worse.

According to the findings of the National Ethnic Minority Achievement Grant Survey conducted by NUT and the National Association for Language Development in the Curriculum (NALDIC) (Feb 2011) on funding changes to provision for the education of bilingual and minority ethnic pupils, 69% of respondents indicated that reduction or deletion in services had taken place or was bing considered. EAL/EMA funded services will cease to exist as of 30th April 2011 as these are not viewed as a core function.

It is also the case that despite its rhetoric about 'fairness', the White Paper "failed to make mention of EAL and BME parameters."

Clearly, with the government signalling these kinds of cuts and a huge reduction in financial support for these groups of pupils, some schools are unlikely to want to spend too much of their reduced budgets on providing services for them. It is much easier, then, to avoid admitting some of these pupils. This is happening.

In case anyone is wondering whether the numbers warrant extra expenditure, well, in 2010 there were 6,564,430 pupils in state sector schools in England, 1,537,190 of whom were of minority ethinc origin. The percentage breakdown for 2010 is 25.5 % in primary schools and 21.4% in secondary schools. (office of National Statistics). In terms of EAL,linguistic diversity in England in 2010, the figures were 16% for primary schools and 11.6% in Secondary schools (Leung,C: 2011, NALDIC Quarterly, Vol.8, No. 2).

In terms of selective schools who might use admissions exams effectively to avoid admitting pupils who do not speak English or ethnic minority pupils who do not have the sort of cultural background to do well in he entrance exams, the Equality Act does clearly state:" You must ensure that the assessments are not discriminatory, for example, by being culturally biased in a way that excludes a considerably higher proportion of pupils form a particular racial group." We have been arguing for a long time that the 11+, for example, needs extensive revision particularly where the onus is on candidates to demonstrate a wide vocabulary - vocabulary that isn't always part of some children's cultural background. One way forward with the 11+ might be to ditch the current exam, create a new one that is carefully drwn up so as to void exclusion on cultural or language grounds, and keep the new format an absolute secret - locked box stuff- until the day of the exam. This used to happen in Singapore for all pupils going for the very gifted route into specialist schools. It sounds much fairer in practice as then no one can really be 'coached' at huge expense, to pass.

Looking at admissions to sective schools becomes crucially important as Gove has made it clear that he favours selective education.

Please note that I am not attempting to start a huge debate on discrimination per se. I am just trying to address another worrying facet of the whole admissions and fairness debate.

This is the very same strategy deployed by the DfE and the s's picture
Sun, 17/04/2011 - 15:01

I think Georgina is absolutely right. The admissions systems we have may not be perfect (but if the government gets its way by reducing the Schools Adjudicator's and simplifying codes then the situation is likely to get worrying worse. The recent consultations on proposed changes to the Equality Act and the Citizenship Curriculum ("should we do away with these altogether?") could open the doors for discrimination in schools and in admissions policy and it will no longer have to be covert. Under a different climate, perhaps we would be advised to calm down and stop getting paranoid but as far as government policies in education are concerned, Gove has pretty much made it clear that he favours selection and segregation in schools. What hope will the children Georgina talks about have? They are not a small minority but a significant number of children whose education will be systematically ruined.

The current government's education policy is not a maverick department going against the grain of party doctrine but one that reflects the fundamental re-distribution of wealth and influence to those who have financial interests to protect or who can shout down and shut up the weakest. It was middle income earners and the needy who suffered the most in the budget, Cameron has just rounded on immigrants (many of whom have paid taxes, contributed hugely to culture and started businesses in this country) and university will be now beyond the means of many bright students.

The current Tory tactic on the AV referendum is to "throw as much mud as you can, don't let the issue be discussed openly and frighten the public.." (Paddy Ashdown). Does this sound familiar when applied to requests for transparency, information, rational debate, a clear answer to a clear question from? The response is a blocking of information, avoiding difficult questions about the long terms effects of their policies and open ridicule and abuse from a section of their free school founders.

We should be very worried and we should be fighting for our schools to include the rights of all children, disadvantaged or otherwise and we should not shy away from being more and more vocal about it. Perhaps soon the shadow cabinet, the Shadow Minister for Education and more and more MPs will hear how loud the opposition to schools policy is becoming and do more about it.

Allan Beavis's picture
Sun, 17/04/2011 - 15:04

I think Georgina is absolutely right. The admissions systems we have may not be perfect (but if the government gets its way by reducing the Schools Adjudicator’s and simplifying codes then the situation is likely to get worrying worse. The recent consultations on proposed changes to the Equality Act and the Citizenship Curriculum (“should we do away with these altogether?”) could open the doors for discrimination in schools and in admissions policy and it will no longer have to be covert. Under a different climate, perhaps we would be advised to calm down and stop getting paranoid but as far as government policies in education are concerned, Gove has pretty much made it clear that he favours selection and segregation in schools. What hope will the children Georgina talks about have? They are not a small minority but a significant number of children whose education will be systematically ruined.

The current government’s education policy is not a maverick department going against the grain of party doctrine but one that reflects the fundamental re-distribution of wealth and influence to those who have financial interests to protect or who can shout down and shut up the weakest. It was middle income earners and the needy who suffered the most in the budget, Cameron has just rounded on immigrants (many of whom have paid taxes, contributed hugely to culture and started businesses in this country) and university will be now beyond the means of many bright students.

The current Tory tactic on the AV referendum is to “throw as much mud as you can, don’t let the issue be discussed openly and frighten the public..” (Paddy Ashdown). This is the very same strategy deployed by the DfE and the supporters of their cynical and divisive policies. Does this sound familiar when applied to requests for transparency, information, rational debate, a clear answer to a clear question from? The response is a blocking of information, avoiding difficult questions about the long terms effects of their policies and open ridicule and abuse from a section of their free school founders.

We should be very worried and we should be fighting for our schools to include the rights of all children, disadvantaged or otherwise and we should not shy away from being more and more vocal about it. Perhaps soon the shadow cabinet, the Shadow Minister for Education and more and more MPs will hear how loud the opposition to schools policy is becoming and do more about it.

Anonymous student's picture
Thu, 26/05/2011 - 20:13

This is ridiculous. The Reading School (and Kendrick School) selection process has nothing to do with wealth or background. They select students, like myself, based purely on ability and intelligence. If they kept up their outstanding level of teaching, but allowed in students that would otherwise not have got in, those students would find it hard to cope, and would fall behind, until they decide that they have to move to a different school.
In an unrelated story, parents whose kids didn’t get in to the England football team are unhappy that Fabio Capello is allowed to select players for the team PURELY on the basis of footballing ability. It’s ”social apartheid” if you ask me. Most of them aren’t even getting free meals!!!

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