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.