The new Admissions Code - good in parts but serious contradictions remain

Fiona Millar's picture
 12
A draft of the new Admissions Code is now out for consultation. I would recommend responding. Here are a few comments I will be making.

It is a relief to see that the new government has retained many of the red lines,the 'musts' and ' must nots' introduced by Labour during the passage of the 2006 Education Act . Before they were introduced the Admissions Code was guidance which schools had to" have regard for", rather rules they were obliged to follow.

And the introduction is promising. Admissions authorities must ensure their criteria and practices are fair, clear and objective. To quote: "Parents should be able to look at a set of arrangements and understand easily how places for that school will be allocated".

How then can arrangements like these be acceptable? There are many examples of own admissions schools producing admissions criteria that are compliant with the Code, but so complex that the average parent couldn't possibly judge their chances of success. And this is an important point given that parents have to make difficult choices about how to rank preferences.  It would be good if more cases like these were brought to the Office of the Schools Adjudicator to see if they really are compatible with the aims set out in Code's introduction.

The next important point is Clause 1.7 which sets out the things that admissions authorities must not do. For example, they should not take into account previous schools, unless those schools are designated feeder schools ( although this can be problematic as we have seen in the debate here about the free school that wants to use feeder schools to socially engineer its intake). The can't introduce new selection by ability ( although existing selection can stay), they can't give places in return for financial contributions, give priority to children according to their parents financial, educational or marital status, take account of primary school reports, discriminate against those with SEN or disabilities, interview or prioritise children on the basis of their parents hobbies or activities ( unless designated faith school in which case going to church counts). The can't name fee-paying independent schools as feeder schools, request photographs of children and supplementary forms which solicit any of this information are outlawed.

In one odd very foot note it is stated that free schools and academies can give priority to pupils on FSM/eligible for the pupil premium. There is no detail about how these children will be chosen, and no explanation of why every school should not be able to do this, especially if it might bring in extra revenue.

As with previous Codes, the drafters appear conflicted on the issue of banding and selection. Banding is allowed, but must be "fair'. However ' banding arrangements which favour high ability children that have been continuously used since the 1997-8 school year may continue, but must not be introduced in any other schools". The Code also allows schools to band against the ability range of applicants, rather than the local or national ability range, which can be a quick route to picking off the most high aspirant families, depending on signals sent at the open evening, judicious distribution of the school prospectus and timing and location of actual banding tests.

The Code also states that parents should be given the outcome of selective entry tests before they apply for any other schools which seems extremely unfair, as those parents effectively get  a head start on other parents.Local authorities can't use random allocation but individual schools can and the ability to select by faith continues, as expected.

An improvement on the last Code is the power given to the Office of the Schools Adjudicator to receive complaints about academies and free schools as well as maintained schools.. The school concerned, or admissions authority , must revise their admission arrangements immediately to give effect to the Adjudicator's decision. Each local authority  must have a Fair Access Protocol and all admissions authorities must take part to ensure that no school takes more or less than its fair share of children with challenging behaviour.

However with this point, and every other requirement in the Code, academies and free schools are only bound in via their funding agreements with the Secretary of State. But the funding agreements are proving hard to come by ( this post recently showed that the Department would not release the FA for the West London Free School) which is a cause of concern since parents can't be sure that schools must comply with the Code unless they have access to the Funding Agreement. Surely these should be made publicly available, on the schools' websites, as soon as they are signed? Only the Secretary of State can insist that an academy or free school complies with stated arrangements, which could be a big task if there are to be thousands of independent state schools.

Finally the appendix to the Code points out that schools need to be aware of their obligations under equalities legislation. They should not discriminate on the grounds of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and disability and must consider how they can "advance equality of opportunity". It  is impossible to see how this can be compatible with the continuing existence of grammar schools which select by ability at 11. In this post we quoted from a Parliamentary answer that demonstrates just how socially and racially selective grammar schools are. Evidence on this site about individual grammar schools has show how they take far fewer children eligible for FSM than the national average.

This Code doesn't take us backwards but it doesn't really take us far forwards either. Most parents want a school admissions system that is fair, objective and easy to understand. With more free and academy schools, with freedoms in this area that other schools don't have, fairness could go out the window, especially if schools can't be held to account locally and nationally. Anyone can now refer a school to the adjudicator, and lets hope many do, but unfair practices don't become fair because no one complains. There is still scope for abuse, covert selection and the continuation of overt selection. It would be better if selection by ability at 11 was finally outlawed, if all schools were subject to the same regulatory framework and if there was good local scrutiny of how admissions work across a given area, working alongside local planning of school places. The suggestion, also in the Code, that popular schools should be allowed to expand at will also has worrying implications, set out in an earlier post here. With the admissions forums also being abolished and reduced powers for local authorities, we are still a way off where we need to be.

 

 

 
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Comments

Tracy Hannigan's picture
Sun, 29/05/2011 - 12:16

The issues are numerous but the particular issue of the SoS's funding agreement containing the admissions policy is an especially annoying and unnecessary one. There is no reason to not release the funding agreement, but if they don't release the entire agreement, then at least the agreed admissions arrangements should be published by both the DfE and the School.

Not meaning to pick on WLFS but the admissions code is on the website and its the most 'famous' FS of all....How do we know if WLFS is abiding by the agreed admissions arragements in the funding agreement if we can't see it? All we see is an admissions policy on the website which appears to contradict the requirement to admit SEN children if named on the application. Their policy says they have to 'agree first', (after an interview to determine the child's needs), before requiring itself to admin the SEN child. But what if the school then does not agree ? - they are free to do that under their listed admissions policy, but not under the new Code.

Do they have an exemption for this? Other FS got exemptions for other things so I'm curious to know and what the basis is.

I don't understand the point of creating a lot of drama about making up rules, and then providing yourself sole ability to waive them whenever you feel you would like (if you perhaps thought it would make your project seem more successful). And I don't understand the allowance for prioritising FSM children in FS and Academies only - they may see this as a way of showing they are being 'fair' and actually encourage schools to seek out areas where this will benefit them....but if these schools continue to go into areas where there is already oversubscription, and then they also have the priority over FSM children which bring them extra money, it is a double whammy on existing local schools.

Free schools were meant to serve local needs and meet local demands, but are put totally out of local hands on almost every level. If the free school project is as successful as they want it to be, there will be so many they'll need to be administered regionally....and then locally....and then where are we? Back to the Local Authority model they seem to disdain and want to do away with...? I don't get the point of it.

Sigh.

Toby Young's picture
Sun, 29/05/2011 - 16:44

Just to clarify, the present Code "allows schools to band against the ability range of applicants, rather than the local or national ability range". That's not a feature of the new Code.

Clearly, you have reservations about fair banding, Fiona. Can you tell us what admissions policy you would favour and, if it's straight-line-distance, how you would guard against selection by post code?

Fiona Millar's picture
Sun, 29/05/2011 - 17:16

See Clause 1.20 of the new Code:
Banding can be used to produce an intake that is representative of:
a) the full range of ability of applicants for the school(s)
b) the range of ability of children in the local area or
c)the national ability range
This is the same as the old Code and allows schools to choose to band against the range of ability in the applicant pool.
I am in favour of area wide banding but not individual schools using banding systems which may have a detrimental affect on other local schools. The new Code admits that this is already going on and some schools use banding to engineer a more favourable intake.
I am also in favour of lotteries and can't understand why this should be available to some admission authorities and not others. I would like to see all schools in an area get together and agree a system that works for everyone, whether it is banding, distance or lottery. This is unlikely to happen now the Admissions Forums are being abolished.

Andy Smithers's picture
Sun, 29/05/2011 - 19:10

Fiona,

This week you were critical of a local school because you stated that its admissions meant that local children may not get in at the expense of children living further away. You stated that this meant it could not be considered a local school.
Both the admission methods you state you are in favour of would result in exactly what you are against.

There needs to be consistancy in what is being supported.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 31/05/2011 - 08:50

The Sutton Trust (2010) agrees with your support for ballots:

"Our view is that the principal means should be by ballot. It would be fair and lead to a more equitable education system … It could be used in conjunction with other criteria, for example ability, faith or location, but ultimately places should be settled by parental preferences with ballots where necessary... Deployed alongside other selection criteria, ballots are the fairest way of deciding school places in over-subscribed schools. There has to be some way of choosing which pupils are admitted, and ballots offer the same chances to all children irrespective of their background."

http://www.suttontrust.com/news/news/top-comprehensive-schools-more-soci...

Mr Gove ignores this - the new admissions code would ban local authorites for using area-wide lotteries.

Fiona Millar's picture
Sun, 29/05/2011 - 19:28

All of the methods I support can be organised within a local catchment area so that children have a choice of a range of local schools. I would support that approach. The school in question clearly takes from anywhere.

Melissa Benn's picture
Sun, 29/05/2011 - 17:34

Out of interest, has anyone ever challenged previous versions of the Code on the grounds that faith schools clearly do discriminate on grounds of religion - indeed, that is what they set out to do?!

Fiona Millar's picture
Sun, 29/05/2011 - 17:55

I think there is something in the equalities legislation that exempts faith schools from anti discimination laws applying to all other public bodies. I know several lawyers who think this could be challenged if the effect was disproportionate ( ie nearly all schools in a local area had faith based admissions criteria see this piece but no-one has yet attempted that type of action.

Tracy Hannigan's picture
Sun, 29/05/2011 - 20:57

Interesting that Toby chose instead to attack on the broader point and totally gloss over my issue of WLFS's advertised code not appearing to meet the new requirements. Maybe he didn't read that part. Anyway, I may have it wrong, but if I don't - will the WLFS code change, or is there an exemption and if so can I ask on what grounds?

Tracy Hannigan's picture
Sun, 29/05/2011 - 21:01

For clarity, it is this bit (which is not only in this year's admissions code, but in the one for the following year as well) :

Children with Statements of Special Educational Needs
The West London Free School will admit any statemented pupil whose statement names the West London Free School and for whom the School has agreed to be named in the statement.

Thanks for any clarification.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 31/05/2011 - 09:36

The new admissions code will allegedly make it easier for popular schools to expand. How this expansion would be achieved quickly is not stated. Will popular schools be recognisable by the number of temporary classrooms mushrooming on the playing fields? Or will the schools have to increase class sizes? Mr Gove says he wants schools to be “run by teachers who the children’s names” – hard to see how this is achievable if popular schools become large schools.

But how do we judge “popular schools”? The main measure is league table position based on exam results. Even independent schools are chasing “league table glory” to “boost their exam results, making them more attractive to parents.”

http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6085977

Can’t Mr Gove see that this excessive reliance on exam results in judging the popularity of schools has a detrimental effect on schools whose ability range is skewed towards the lower-ability range? Alan Milburn* said underperforming schools would have a “sharp impetus to improve”, but how can schools improve exam results when results are closely related to intake?

Mr Gove says the changes to the code “will help give all children the chance of world-class schools.” “World-class schools” are not necessarily those judged by the crude measure of raw exam results. OECD has warned the Government about the effects of over-reliance on exam grades: grade inflation, teaching-to-the-test, squeezing out non-cognitive skills, “cream skimming” **and so on. Mr Gove would be wise to heed this warning.

* “For a British Obama we need better schools” The Times, 28 May (only available behind the paywall)

**”Reforming education in England”, Chapter 3, OECD Economic Surveys: United Kingdom

Sarah's picture
Fri, 03/06/2011 - 13:04

There are many contradictions in the draft code. The code says that the Published Admission Number is part of the admission arrangements and that the admissions authority is responsible for determining those arrangements. How then, in the case of schools which are not their own admission arrangements can the proposal also be made that 'all schools' should be able to increase their PAN without any consultation. Either the school is the admissions authority or the local authority is, either the PAN is part of the admissions arrangements or it isn't. Allowing all schools to increase their PANs will lead to a free for all where schools (including selective schools) will be able to expand until they burst, regardless of the impact on existing children's education or that of children attending other schools in the area who would then lose significant elements of their budget.

Secondly - what is the threshold to be above which schools can not admit further pupils? Is it to be (as now) that it would prejudice the education of children and the use of resources or (as it states in parts of the new code) only where children's safety would be directly affected. The prejudice threshold appears still to be applied in relation to turning children away once the PAN is reached for Year 7 transfers - but if the school increases its PAN or wants to admit above PAN then the much more demanding threshold is applied in that there will be a presumption of allowing the school to take more children unless it would be unsafe to do so. How can they expect to apply two different thresholds to determine when a school is full? And how will the schools adjudicator make those judgement about the safety of pupils in applying the new rules?

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