The Education Bill
, which had a second reading last Tuesday, if enacted, could make school admissions even more unfair than they are at the moment. As Barnardos
, The Sutton Trust
and Comprehensive Future's
research has shown, when schools become their own admissions' authorities, unfairness creeps into the system. Barnados report, Unlocking The School Gates
"Schools that are their own admissions authority are subject to the School Admissions Code, designed to ensure they allow fair access for all. Despite this, there is evidence that they tend to be more socially selective. A report by the Sutton Trust in October 2008 found that 74 out of the 100 most socially selective in England were their own admission authority. In particular, voluntary aided schools (typically those with a religious focus) seemed to take disproportionately fewer pupils entitled to free school meals, compared to their local population."
The reasons for this are quite complex, but it seems that the complicated admissions' processes of these schools -- involving filling in separate application forms, complex admissions' criteria, off-putting prospectuses, open evenings and curricula -- deter poorer parents from applying to these schools. The net result is the social segregation that we currently see in our schools, with half of all pupils on Free School Meals in a quarter of our secondary schools. This situation will certainly be aggravated by the fact that many more schools are becoming Academies, and Free Schools are being set up: these schools are their own admissions' authorities as well as voluntary-aided schools.
Unfortunately, the new Education Bill, if enacted as it stands, will remove the current safeguards that have gone some way towards making our schools admissions' system fairer . The Bill will abolish the current checks and balances in place, by weakening the powers of the School Adjudicator, who sniffs out "errant" schools, and by abolishing admissions' forums which investigate whether school admissions are fair within a local community.
Margaret Tulloch, speaking on behalf of Comprehensive Future
notes: "Clause 34 in the Education Bill abolishes admission forums, the duty on local authorities to report annually on admissions to the School Adjudicator and the power of the school adjudicator to look at all aspects of admissions once a particular issue is raised with him. Successive School Admissions Codes have done a great deal to remove unfairness in school admissions. The work of local authorities, admission forums and the School Adjudicator has been instrumental in this, monitoring the Code. Rather than abolition we believe their roles should be enhanced. Admission forums provide a vehicle for local admission authorities and other key interested parties to discuss the effectiveness of local admission arrangements, consider how to deal with difficult admission issues and to advise admission authorities on ways in which their arrangements can be improved. All parents are entitled to know that the local admission forum is open to them to make representations, as many have. The Chief School Adjudicator has made recommendations in his recent Annual Report about the local authority reports suggesting how they might be used to require specific information. He also proposed enhancing the role of the Admission Forums in contributing to these reports. In nearly half his investigations of complaints he found other aspects of admissions which did not comply with the Code."
If you are concerned about the unfairness of the changes to school admissions in the Education Bill, you should: