What’s in the revised school admission codes?

Janet Downs's picture
“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.”

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Rosemary Mann's picture
Fri, 04/11/2011 - 21:47

I'm aware that some school governors and school staff in London feel that the sibling policy should be abandoned at least temporarily for schools taking bulge classes as this automatically puts a lot of pressure on schools that do so, in future years. In some London schools sibling applications take up the full 30 places in reception classes. I can understand the pressure but also thnk it would be impractical for parents to send their kids to different primary schools but I do know that some children who live practically next door to a good school won't have any chance of getting in , so it is they who will have to travel further. Anyone any ideas on how to deal with this as I think its becoming a heated debate.

Rosemary Mann's picture
Fri, 04/11/2011 - 21:57

I don't want to be greedy posting again, but just wanted to say how pleased I am at the multiple policy.There have been many cases of twins being split up across different schools against the will of their parents which has caused lots of logistical problems so this is a good step but it isn't the whole story. my own wish is that my daughters have separate classes from the outset which is why we preferred and got a 2 FE primary for our older daughter. There are many parents who share that view but also many who want their children in the same class. However there is still the problem that there is no way to identify twin or more applications on the Admissions website or form, only writing it in the narrative and cross referencing this, unless this is changing too which means that there is no way of drawing attention to the relationship between them and they are effectively treated as individual children. There does need to some way of indicating more clearly that you are applying for two places at one school.

Fiona Millar's picture
Sat, 05/11/2011 - 18:42

On balance I think the sibling rule is right for primaries, although it does reduce choice for the parents of first born children. However the new Code also says that schools can now offer places to the siblings of pupils who have left the school. This seems quite wrong as in some cases it may become almost impossible for the first borns to get places.

I hope MPs tackle the issue of only free schools and academies being allowed to prioritse FSM children. The Code does have a period of discussion in Parliament I believe.

Keith Turvey's picture
Sun, 06/11/2011 - 07:45

Yes I agree with regards the sibling rule. However, it does also illustrate how quickly pressure on places at a school can build. The new code proposes that 'good' schools will be allowed to expand to meet this burgeoning demand but I wonder how this will actually work in reality. The scope for schools to expand is limited by a number of factors including the size of the existing building and room to extend. But also I question this concept on the grounds that there needs to some cut off point whereby a school becomes full. This then encourages aspirational families and children to support other local schools.

The proposal to ban area-wide lotteries is also interesting. How do they define 'area-wide' I wonder? I believe many some free schools and academies are using lotteries to allocate some of their places. In theory the applicants for these randomly allocated places could be drawn from a 'wide' area. Presumably, the term area-wide is to be applied in the sense of across a group of schools and not defined with reference to applicants if that makes sense?

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 06/11/2011 - 08:41

The revised code doesn't advocate a complete ban on "lotteries" for deciding school places - it says that random allocation shouldn't be the "principal" means of making such a decision. This would allow some use of random allocation. What the code does is ban admission procedures such as the one used in Brighton and Hove:

"The current process in the city, which was introduced in 2007, involves everyone within a fixed catchment area having an equal chance of being awarded a secondary school place if that school is oversubscribed. Exceptions are made for children with siblings at the school, but no preference is given to children living within close proximity of the school."

Keith is correct in pointing out that the ban of "lotteries" as the principal means of selection only applies to "area-wide", presumably those lotteries used by local authorities (like Brighton and Hove). The code would still allow lotteries to be the principal means of selection in academies and free schools if they wished to do so because each academy/free schools is its own admissions authority. It seems, therefore, that local authorities will not be free to devise admissions policies but academies and free schools will be. As a Brighton and Hove Councillor said:

“Michael Gove’s latest dictat flies in the face of everything the Tory-led Government have been saying about promoting local decision making and has the potential to throw the city’s secondary school admissions system into chaos."


Rosemary Mann's picture
Sun, 06/11/2011 - 09:41

I was though specifically asking about the position when schools take bulge classes; this gives the school in question a potentially additional pressure. I am aware that some London schools are taking two bulge classes this year so that brings with them automatically and additionally 60- 90 sibling places in probably the next few years. Some schools are asking for an exemption to the sibling policy for this particular bulge in order to prevent exacerbating the situation in future years.

I am also interested to hear thoughts on the general crisis with places in areas such as London as there are many bulge classes being created with consequent pressures on existing schools and only a little money being made available for wholesale expansion. . I am not advocating free schools as I see these as nuisance factor in the whole scenario but overall without better funding for expansion we are going to be looking at piecemeal development for some time to come.

Keith Turvey's picture
Sun, 06/11/2011 - 13:43

Janet I suspect Brighton and Hove could argue that the lottery used here is not the principal mechanism which it is not. Essentially it is a catchment system and the lottery is used if the catchment becomes oversubscribed. Of course at least one school in the popular catchments is usually oversubscribed which triggers a lottery in these catchments every year.

Keith Turvey's picture
Sun, 06/11/2011 - 16:41

Rosalyn my own view is that there isn't a 'crisis' in places per se but the popular schools are full. My own view is that in any admissions system premised on parental preference/choice stratification will occur as popular schools become full. Popular schools cant just go on expanding. Besides they'll get to a size where their success becomes their downfall as parents then decide the smaller more intimate school down the road id now preferrable - its a dynamic system. From this perspective I think bulge classes just put off the inevitable ie that some families will have to support other less popular schools. Popularity changes and shifts.

Of course if there's a genuine shortage of places then new schools need to be built or existing schools expanded. However on occasions I feel the 'crisis of places' argument has often been exaggerated by parents who really mean a shortage of places at the schools they would choose for their children.

Keith Turvey's picture
Sun, 06/11/2011 - 22:52

The other thing to say Janet is that I think the admissions code is merely a smoke screen. When we challenged the Brighton and Hove system on the grounds that it discriminated against significant numbers of kids from the most deprived wards, the then Schools Adjudicator found against the challenge by putting his own interpretation on the code. That was with a code that did try to pin down the finer details with regards fairness and equity. This code is so vague as to be little use at all. It legitimises virtually any approach in its vagueness. As noted above 'area-wide' can be interpreted in a number of ways and from a number of different perspectives.

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