Who checks the admission codes of free schools? And what sanctions, if any, are in place for schools that flout the code?

Janet Downs's picture
Free schools, in theory, have to abide by the Admissions Code. But who censures the schools when their admissions criteria either flout or bend the Code?

Free schools are forbidden to give priority to independent feeder schools. But Langley Hall Primary Academy in Stroud gives priority to children attending the paid-for, attached nursery, Wellingtons, after children whose home is in an area “traditionally served by the schools’ catchment area“ but before distance from the school. When asked about this, Lord Hill, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools, said that he understood that while the nursery was independent local parents could apply for a place as part of their entitlement to free early education for three and four-year-olds. However, the Wellingtons Nursery Fees information makes it clear that “This flexible attendance [for free entitlement] is subject to availability and by negotiation with the nursery. It is for 38 weeks of the year only.” In theory, parents can take up their free entitlement but in practice they cannot if there is no room.

The Maharishi Free School, Lancashire, gives priority after the children of staff to “Pupils transferring from another school that is approved and supported by The International Foundation of Consciousness-based Education.” This criteria comes before geographical proximity. The DfE confirmed that this clause was “not one of the agreed criteria” and said the school was amending its website “to reflect the oversubscription criteria agreed with the Department.” The school has not yet done so.

Free schools who wish to change their agreed Admissions Code are supposed to consult. At the very least the changes should be advertised on the school’s website although this is not a legal requirement. The West London Free School’s proposed changes to allow the children of the founders to have priority have not been published on the school’s website or any news about the consultation. Instead, primary schools within a five mile radius have been given the information and asked to let parents know. The primary schools, therefore, have to take the responsibility and stand the cost of a consultation required from another school.

Langley Hall Primary Academy and the West London Free School may be following the letter of the law but they are not abiding by its spirit. And the Maharishi Free School is ignoring the DfE request to remove a clause which had not been agreed with the Department.

As more free schools are established, it is essential that proper checks are put in place to ensure they abide by the rules laid down by Parliament. Their much-hyped autonomy does not mean freedom to pay lip service to the rules or, worse, ignore the law altogether.

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Sarah's picture
Wed, 15/02/2012 - 12:29

The responsibility for ensuring fair access rests with local authorities and they have a duty if they consider that schools are operating admissions unfairly to refer that school to the school's adjudicator. This can be a difficult role when many local authorities are providing admissions support on a traded basis to some own-admission-authority schools. I hope that the local authorities responsible for coordination of admissions in the areas where these schools are will take this duty seriously and refer them - and they might well be challenged if they do not do so.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 15/02/2012 - 13:15

According to the DfE, any parent or carer who wants to object against the admission code of a free school or academy has to appeal to the Education Funding Agency (EFA) within the specified time frame (from when the school admissions code was decided and 31 July of that year).

As only parents, carers or guardians of a child between two years of age and the end of compulsory school age are able to complain, then this restricts the number of people able to object. Parents might not bother if they are not going to apply for a place for their child. It also puts the burden on parents to decide whether a Code might be unlawful - this means that parents would have to have a good working knowledge of the Schools Admission Code.

If the admissions code of any school is potentially illegal then any person should be able to make a complaint. After all, the school might be breaking the law, so why restrict the right to complain to only a small group of people?

Free schools and academies are funded by the taxpayer. As such, the DfE should be responsible for ensuring that no school flouts the law.


Sarah's picture
Wed, 15/02/2012 - 16:14

Under the new admissions code objections to Academies admission arrangements will go to the Schools Adjudicator rather than the Education funding Agency. The codes says 'Any person or body who considers that any maintained school or Academy’s arrangements are unlawful, or not in compliance with the Code or relevant law relating to admissions, can make an objection to the Schools Adjudicator'. As I said in my earlier post it is the local authority that has the statutory duty to ensure fair access - so they can be encouraged by other stakeholders to fulfill that duty if the arrangements are considered unfair.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 15/02/2012 - 17:10

There seems to be conflicting information. The Schools Adjudicator (updated 8 Feb 2012) says: "Parents wishing to object to admission arrangements of an academy or Free School should contact the EFA. The EFA will seek the advice of a schools adjudicator before making a decision themselves." But the Admissions Code (dated 1 February 2012) says something different as Sarah makes clear above.

Does anyone at the DfE actually know what's going on?


Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 15/02/2012 - 17:15

Regarding changes to admission arrangements, the Code states:

" When changes are proposed to admission arrangements, all admission authorities must consult by 1 March on their admission arrangements (including any supplementary information form) that will apply for admission applications the following academic year"


"For the duration of the consultation period, the admission authority must publish a copy of their full proposed admission arrangements (including the proposed PAN) on their website together with details of the person within the admission authority to whom comments may be sent and the areas on which comments are not sought. Admission authorities must also send upon request a copy of the proposed admission arrangements to any of the persons or bodies listed above inviting comment. Failure to consult effectively may be grounds for subsequent complaints and appeals."

It's widely known that WLFS is changing its admission arrangments. Is it in breach of the code for not putting the proposed arrangements on its website?

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 21/02/2012 - 12:24

UPDATE The Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) has emailed me to say that the information on their website which I quoted above is incorrect. OSA had not updated the page after the new Admission Code came into force. The correct information about appealing against a school's admission criteria is the extract from the code given by Sarah above.

OSA says it will update their webpage shortly.

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