“Parents back fairer and simpler school admission codes” trumpets the latest press release from the Department for Education
(DfE) although a look at the consultation results
shows that some of the proposals received a mixed response.
Parents overwhelmingly supported “popular and successful schools” being allowed to increase the number of places (70%) but support from other groups was mixed. 68% of local authorities and 66% of faith groups were against the proposal.
On the issue of allowing Academies and Free Schools to prioritise pupils who attract the pupil premium, the press release is circumspect. It says that “respondents supportive of the proposal said it would give more opportunities to children from low-income families”. What the press release didn’t say was that only 37% agreed with this proposal, 39% disagreed and 24% weren’t sure. In the statistical breakdown of responses
, the DfE recognised that the response was “mixed” but it remained committed to its “intention that only Academies and Free Schools will be permitted to give priority… to children in receipt of pupil premium”. The statistical breakdown (but not the press release) revealed that many respondents questioned why the ability to prioritise pupils in receipt of pupil premium was not given to all schools. This question was not answered. It should be.
The revised code will allow schools to give priority to the children of staff although this will be restricted to staff who’ve been employed for at least two years or who’ve been recruited to meet a school’s particular skills shortage. The press release spin on this is to say that schools would be able “to attract and retain the best teachers and school support staff by allowing them to ensure their own children have a place at their school.” Whether this proposal will attract staff to challenging schools is doubtful.
The code also allows schools to increase class size over the 30-child limit in order to accommodate multiple-birth siblings and children of armed forces personnel. Other changes include allowing parents to apply direct to schools when making an in-year application, allowing admission authorities to consult on arrangements every seven years instead of three if there are no proposed changes, allowing anyone to object to admissions arrangements, increasing the time limit for parents to lodge an appeal against school decisions, restricting the use of random allocation (“lotteries”) and allowing appeals to take place on school premises. There is also no longer any requirement for admission authorities to advertise for lay appeal members every three years although they will be required to “ensure that panel members are independent”. How that independence is supposed to be achieved or monitored is not explained.
In the press release, the Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, said the changes to the admissions code would “help raise the standard in our schools and close the attainment gap between those from poorer and wealthier backgrounds”. It remains to be seen whether Academies and Free Schools will really prioritise pupils attracting the pupil premium or whether they will ignore this “freedom” if they think it would put off advantaged parents. And the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) warned in its Economic Survey UK 2011, that if the “perceived deprivation funding [the pupil premium] is lower that schools’ perceived costs, they [the schools] may engage in ‘cream skimming’, trying to dissuade disadvantaged students and recruit more able students.”