WLFS - exemptions from Admissions Code

Lilly's picture
by Lilly
 27
Just last week Toby Young tweeted a request for the text for the Admissions Code text for 2013.

Today I saw a document about the consultation for the 2013 Admissions for West London Free School. In it, the oversubscription criteria stated that children of the Founders were given priority admissions – just behind looked after children but ahead of children with musical aptitude and siblings of children currently at the school. A definition of founders is broad – ‘those individuals who played a major role in establishing the school, undertaking activities during the application and pre-opening stages, and continue to play a significant role in the running of the school since opening’. The list of such privileged people is upon request from the WLFS itself. I wonder how many there are – running a school is complex business – there could be a full raft of them!

In the text for the Admission Code, there are provisions for children of staff of greater than two years tenure to have priority admissions - but prohibitions against those with

a) taking account of reports of previous schools about children’s past behaviour....(and WLFS proposed criteria has an exception for those excluded from two or more schools for a period of two years) and
b) prioritise children on the basis of their own or their parents‟ past or current hobbies or activities.

Would setting up a free school constitute a past or current hobby or activity? Or would the proposers rely upon the fact that the Admissions Appeal has to be run past the Trust - who clearly would have authorised the exemption in the first place?

This exemption from the Admissions code runs counter to many admonishments by key founder Toby Young – including this early report.

The admissions criteria are agreed between the Academy and the Secretary of State and lay within the funding agreements. These agreements have been unavailable from the schools and the DfE. This has generated a lot of speculation as to the contents of such funding agreements and the admissions exceptions granted therein. These arrangements have been kept secret. Why?

Interestingly, I had a look on twitter this evening and saw an exchange with @toadmeister

@lilt1h1 Hi - May I ask roughly when you signed the funding agreement for 2013-2014 for WLFS?
@toadmeister We don't have a separate FA for 2013-14. Just the one covering us from 2011 onwards. We signed it on March 1st, 2011.

This means that the exemption for admissions, as a part of the funding agreement, must have existed when the current agreement was signed. Why this ‘caveat’ was not employed in the first round of admissions? Were the Founder’s children not of the right age to implement it? Why did they not want to reveal they had an exemption from the Admissions Code? Toby Young recently said he didn’t want to reveal the contents of the agreement because other schools were not ready – are they all harbouring the same ‘secret’? And if it is no problem and makes so much sense, why hide it at all?
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Comments

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 19/01/2012 - 10:47

Priority for the children of founders is a just reward, says Toby Young quoted in TES. He argues that there are only nine children involved (four of which, presumably, will be his). The article also quoted Anne West, professor of education policy at the London School of Economics, who said that variations in admissions rules via individual school funding agreements would be “problematic”.

“Parents, or others, will not be able to object to them - the funding agreement is agreed with the secretary of state and cannot be challenged through normal channels,” she said. “There will be no transparency unless the funding agreements are made available in full. If, for example, the children of founding members are prioritised, how many founding members will this apply to? Will it apply to all children of founding members? Over how long a period of time will it apply?

If Admissions Criteria can be varied by agreement with the Secretary of State, this opens the door to all kinds of variations. Could parents be prioritised if they support the school financially or give some practical help? And if a school can alter its Admissions Code on an annual basis, could this constant moving of the goalposts hide any manner of dubious criteria?

http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6155740

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Thu, 19/01/2012 - 12:51

May I congratulate our local comprehensive on their new Admissions Code which ignores the Governments draft code but respects the Leeds LEA code and and puts SEN [non-statemented children] at second place for over-subscribed places .

(the school after a pitched battle converted to Academy status late last year) .

QUOTE:
"Criteria 1
a) Children in public care or fostered under an arrangement made by the local authority. (see Note 1)
b) Pupils without a statement but who have special educational needs, or with exceptional medical or mobility needs, which can only reasonably be met at Prince Henry’s. (see Note 2)"

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Thu, 19/01/2012 - 13:04

If WLFS or indeed any other large secondary Free has only 9 founders kids then, given the size of the school, I feel it's insignificant given the 30% FSM figure and the fact that in 8 or so years the issue won't be there but there'll still be a big and hopefully good school open to all .( lets avoid the Free School - right or wrong debate).

However I do NOT feel the same about the 20 pupil/form entry primary Canary Wharf College , indeed my dislike of the direction and motivations for Free Primary Schools that it represents brings out in me a vexation close to rage.

The important thing is that the potential for abuse of the Founders' clause is avoided

i.e the founders are named in the first funding agreement and the number of children eligible ( excluding future births) is approximated.

Fiona Millar's picture
Thu, 19/01/2012 - 13:44

Surely the point about this story is that the supporters of free schools, and this school in particular, have always claimed they would abide by the Code of Practice on Admissions. Now we see that in practice that isn't going to happen. Whether it is founders' children, the restoration of interviews as part of the admissions process or the use of primary school references doesn't really matter, what matters is that the Secretary of State ( in this case someone who really does believe in selection) has the power to give them freedom to opt out of the Code. I predict many free schools will take advantage of this, their original promises will prove to be hollow and we will see a slow steady increase in covert as well as overt selection via the academy and free school route.

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Thu, 19/01/2012 - 14:37

Unfortunately I believe the new schools will always be able to claim that they abided by the Code of Practice because the Code refers to allowing variations defined in Annex D (B ?) of the Funding Agreement ; not so much "we had our fingers crossed" but certainly "smoke and mirrors".

We should perhaps consider the role/scope of Annex D . Is it to provide
a) ADDITIONAL ( and potentially mendacious) clauses over and above those of the main Code OR

b) Can it also allow the OVER_TURNING or contradiction of clauses in the main Code.

i.e we have examples of the former in the founders " we're not saints" clause and the cynical distortion of the catchment area in Bristol Free School ongoing admissions consultation ...

but will they actually be allowed to have ones that directly contradict the code e.g "ignore that no primary school refs rubbish in the main code".

I feel there are more obvious mendacities in the Code itself above all the failure of the code to change the access of children with statements to academies to match the change in status of academies from sponsership to convertor.

Any popular over-subscribed Academy/Free School can happily and sanctimoniously pledge to admit any statemented child knowing full well they have the primary power of veto on their school being named on the child's statement.

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Thu, 19/01/2012 - 14:56

Annex B not D

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Thu, 19/01/2012 - 14:55

Found Fiona's OCt blog
..
http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2011/10/free-schools-able-to-opt-o...

aaahh I see the Free Schools are allowed "EXCEPTIONS" so in theory the funding agreement can say " forget non-selection...get on with it"

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Thu, 19/01/2012 - 15:02

So WLFS and Bolingbroke ............are you intending to introduce selection of any form by the back door via Annex B EVER ( including the proposed 3-11 intake) ?

IF you are offended by the very idea will you support the lobbying of the Government regarding the abolition of Annex B ( we can still bung "founders" clause in the main code) .

Perhaps with your contacts you could pop a note through ???

Tracy Hannigan's picture
Thu, 19/01/2012 - 20:25

What really intrigued me is that they have to consult on admissions changes - but the original admissions is unavailable! However I just saw Toby Young tweet that DfE is publishing the WLFS funding agreement on its website tomorrow.....

Janet Lallysmith's picture
Thu, 19/01/2012 - 21:27

I should imagine that that will be a very abridged version...

Tracy Hannigan's picture
Fri, 20/01/2012 - 17:51

On the admissions point, I'm still left a bit confused and wanting the details on the exemptions from the admissions code that allows founder children - maybe I skimmed too fast but I don't see it. The Funding Agreement section on Admissions says:

8. Pupils on roll in any predecessor maintained or independent school will transfer automatically to the Academy on opening. All children already offered a place at any predecessor school will be admitted.

-- There is the 'feeder' provision for the intended primary school....

9. The Academy will:
a. subject to its right of appeal to the Secretary of State in relation to a named pupil, admit all pupils with a statement of special educational needs naming the Academy;

--as noted previously the admissions policy on the WLFS (now amended) was confusing on this point

b. adopt admission oversubscription criteria that give highest priority to looked after children, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the School Admissions Code.

Oversubscription criteria, admission number, consultation, determination and objections.
10. The Academy admission arrangements will include oversubscription criteria, and an admission number for each relevant age group
5. The Academy will consult on its admission arrangements and determine them in line with the requirements within the School Admissions Code.
11. The Young People’s Learning Agency (YPLA) or any successor to it may consider objections on the Secretary of State’s behalf. The Academy Trust should therefore make it clear, when determining the Academy’s admission arrangements, that objections should be submitted to the YPLA or any successor to it.
5 ‘12. A determination of an objection by the YPLA or any successor to it on behalf of the Secretary of State, or by the Secretary of State will be binding upon the Academy.

There is nothing in this at all about the admissions code exception - in fact it states that they must determine them in line with the admissions code..... so obviously any exemption must be contained in a seperate document.

Tracy Hannigan's picture
Fri, 20/01/2012 - 19:40

Toby - is the request for Founder's Children a new thing and what document might it be found within? Is the list available ?

Amy Lassman's picture
Tue, 24/01/2012 - 18:50

I have just had my 3rd FoI request for details of WLFS funding refused for another completely different reason....
1) Section 36(2)(c) is a qualified exemption and therefore a public interest test has been carried out. In doing so the following factors have been taken into consideration:


There is a general public interest in disclosure because of the desirability of more open and transparent government and of promoting public accountability.
Releasing approved applications would be likely to encourage future applicants to put forward similar applications or use sections from approved applications. This would undermine a fundamental part of our assessment of a group’s capacity and capability – the ability to put together a coherent and original bid.
Releasing approved applications might encourage applicants to submit bids that they thought would be successful rather than submitting a bid that best reflected the needs of the local community.
Releasing approved applications will give those applications that are rejected greater scope for challenging decisions if they have approved versions to point to, even though each round of applications is a separate competitive process.
Business cases were in most cases produced after an iterative process. Many were approved with conditions and they are all out of date by virtue of the further development that occurred in the pre-opening stage. It would therefore be misleading to publish them.

2)Section 43 of the Act is also a qualified exemption which means that a public interest test needs to be carried out, and in doing so the following factors have been taken into consideration:

There is a public interest in the transparency of the accountability of public funds to ensure that public money is being used effectively, and that departments are getting value for money when purchasing goods and services.
However, there is also a public interest in ensuring that the Department is able to maintain a strong bargaining position during negotiations. Disclosure of the information requested would be likely to prejudice the commercial interests of the Department, by adversely affecting its bargaining position and resulting in less effective use of public money.
It is clearly in the public interest to ensure the Department receives sufficient information before entering into financial arrangements. Disclosure of the requested information would make it less likely that organisations or individuals would provide such information to the Department in the future should they be aware that such information would be published.

I am too tired to summarise my thoughts now but I am in the process of making my second complaint to the Information Commissioner over this issue and wondered if anyone else here had had similar experiences?

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Wed, 25/01/2012 - 16:34

Playing the devils advocate here but leaving aside the fact a FOI request has been turned down have you read in detail the reasons for not publishing : could they be valid? ie

1) If the gov publish the full applications then are they right in claiming other free school aspirants will simply copy them , leaving out months of work for themselves and being able to claim " why won't you let us open our school it's the same as that one"?

I think I can see their point of view ..don't want to make it easy for new Free Schools after all ?

2) The full capital investment in the final site for the WLFS isn't complete as the school is not finished ..The D of E have published on their website the capital funding on the completed schools or conversions ( 4 or 5 so far) .

You might get more luck if you applied for specific items such as temporary accommodation costs/ leasing etc which are no longer commercially sensitive.

e.g you could apply for how much the lease on the building for the Canary Wharf College is costing and if this is met by the D of E or out of their funding pot.

You could apply to the various Consultancies/charities supporting Free School applications for the monies they have charged the Government for support fees via an FOI request.

IF you want to ascertain whether any Free School was justified presumably you can arrange to visit any LEA offices to inspect their files on their input/assessment ( but you'll have to visit their offices) . You can also ask the LEA what impact there has been on secondary places because of the school.

NOW the most interesting figure would be what a school with the same profile as any of the new Free Schools would get if still under LEA funding formulas for 2011-12 and compare to what they're actually getting under the D of E's Free School funding calculator ( also published on their website and under Hansard Written Answers 20th Dec 2011).

And you could also explore what other support revenue streams are provided by the D of Educ and ascertain whether Free Schools are being favoured in selection for funding (but are there really enough Free Schools to show a bias?)

Don't forget it's the Government determining and approving the funding levels not the new Free Schools ; and let's just hope the new Schools have factored in enough flexibility to allow for drops in future budgets .

Allan Beavis's picture
Tue, 24/01/2012 - 19:43

Amy

Is this for further information not actually given in the recently published WLFS Funding Agreement?

Amy Lassman's picture
Tue, 24/01/2012 - 20:32

Allan,
I requested the application form, financial plan and Suitability and Declarations form for the West London Free School as I want to know why the application was successful and how much public money was spent. The DfE have published the standard Funding Agreement which gives none of the specific details of the school. It's publication adds nothing to the information already available in the public domain.

Amy Lassman's picture
Tue, 24/01/2012 - 20:37

No details that aren't already known.....disapppointing. Please see my post below.

Allan Beavis's picture
Tue, 24/01/2012 - 20:41

Yes. I have only managed to skim read it but my impression was that no amendments or variations pertaining to the school were included. So, although Toby Young and the DfE have announced that the Funding Agreement has been published this is only partially true. What is still being withheld and concealed from the tax payer, in a democratic society, is essential information which is not only in the public interest but which has to be made accountable to parents and communities whose schools have been hit very hard as a result of government cuts, with budgets top sliced to fund schools that teach a minuscule number of pupils.

Tracy Hannigan's picture
Tue, 24/01/2012 - 20:54

I have had most of my detailed requests refused on a similar basis. I note, sadly, that Toby strays away from threads here that discuss fact, and only tends to jump in where opinion and heat are at the fore.

What is most interesting is that the funding agreement seems to be missing several key points - so they must be in seperate documents.....

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Wed, 25/01/2012 - 17:40

Smoke and mirrors - we asked for the Funding Agreement and they gave it to us.

You could try a more specific FOI request for any qualifying correspondance or variance documents pertaining to the original funding agreement , just word it so they can't wriggle out of providingthem...or ask them specifically to provide the document that allows founders clause ?

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Wed, 25/01/2012 - 16:58

Meanwhile busting the myth that big business ( or heaven forbid BANKERS!!) isn't moving in on Acadamies and Free Schools the D of Educ website has published the following.

http://www.education.gov.uk/a00202114/michael-gove-welcomes-commitment-f...

Barclays Bank are nobly pledging support to the new Academies and Free Schools - wonder why that is ? They also want to encourage their senior staff to become Governors of the schools . Wonder why that is ?

The report strangely fails to mention why they won't be providing free banking or any assistance to maintained schools
or even the LEA's


"In particular, Barclays will target much of its support at academies, Free Schools, University Technical Colleges (UTCs) and Studio Schools. These independent, state-funded schools are free from local authority control, making external expertise on issues like finance and HR invaluable."

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Wed, 25/01/2012 - 17:09

Janet has highlighted that Bourne Grammar School ( selective academy) is expanding by 30 pupils/year

http://www.bourne-grammar.lincs.sch.uk/index.php?view=52&article=696

IF I was looking to explore funding discrepancies and bias in favour of Acadmies I would be chasing this to see what capital funding is being diverted from othe rprojects

and

when are Labour and the LIberal Democrats going to stop standing with their hands in their pockets and actually do something about this ?

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Thu, 26/01/2012 - 11:37

Regarding access to annual accounts from trusts and academies Nick Gibb has responded to a written question in Parliament ( i hadn't noticed the accounting clause in any funding agreement but haven't really looked)

http://www.theyworkforyou.com/wrans/?id=2012-01-19a.90228.h&s=speaker%3A...

TEXT

Hilary Benn (Leeds Central, Labour)
To ask the Secretary of State for Education what arrangements are in place to audit financial expenditure in academies.


Nick Gibb (Minister of State (Schools), Education; Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, Conservative)
Academies are operated by charitable Trusts that are incorporated as companies limited by guarantee. Academy Trusts must comply with the Companies Act 2006 and this includes the preparation of annual financial statements ("accounts"). The accounts must report a Trust's income and expenditure during its accounting year, and its assets and liabilities at the end of the year. Under the Act the accounts must be audited by a registered auditor and filed with the registrar of companies to provide public access. The statutory requirement to produce annual accounts, to have them audited and to publish them is also set out in Academy Trust Funding Agreements with the Secretary of State for Education, my right hon. Friend Michael Gove. Additionally Funding Agreements allow for the books and accounts of the Trust to be open at all reasonable times to officials of the Department for Education and the National Audit Office for inspection.

David Barry's picture
Mon, 24/03/2014 - 11:11

There has just, I see, been a discussion on Mumsnet of WLFS which includes a statement by one of the responders (who often, over the years has given reliable advice on admissions processes) that WLFS are in breach of the admissions code and could be taken to the Schools adjudicator.....

The postings are here: (You dont have to be a member of Mumsnet to read, but you do have to be a member to contribute)

http://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/secondary/2010963-West-London-Free-School-Se...

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 24/03/2014 - 11:35

David - the Schools Adjudicator censured WLFS two years (see below). The Mumsnet complaint appears to relate to the way WLFS does its random draws.

http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2012/11/20-of-first-wave-free-scho...

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Mon, 24/03/2014 - 20:58

As far as I can tell the MUmsnet debate starts off "outing" the issue of high staff turnover but changes to a discussion of whether parents should have been told that they haven't got a place and how they find out where they are on the waiting list.

This is hardly a debate about fair admissions...more a demand to know what their chances are of getting in via the waiting list so they don't have to bother exploring other options.

What they miss is the mendacity of the admissions which allows their child to get into WLFS secondary if they've managed to snare a place in the WLFS priamry for a younger child.

Now sibling preference is well-established in most schools admissions policies but this may be the first time that getting a younger child into the reception in a free school will guarantee a place for an older child at the secondary ???

WIth the WLFS secondary set to open a second primary school over 2 miles away ( once they've demolished Earls Court and extended South Kensington into , what once was council housing) the WLFS admissions policy will become more distorted, a situation I first raised here

http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2013/01/is-west-london-free-school...

Some l credit to WLFS they did delete the promise of assured entry to WLFS secondary from their website soon after this article was posted ...and i've always felt that they were actually quite fair in admissions ...so I'm somewhat disappointed to see the new admissions policies now favours older siblings as well as younger.

All said the original poster on MUMsnet is correct in being worried about high staff turnover.....but then the pressures on the school to do well are immense...

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