Free schools and academies can, but might not. LA maintained schools can’t, but might want to. More muddle from the DfE over prioritising pupils eligible for free school meals.

Janet Downs's picture
“Free Schools and Academies will be able to prioritise pupils from the poorest backgrounds, ensuring they have more opportunities to benefit from innovative approaches to teaching.” So trumpets Schools Minister, Nick Gibb.

But Mr Gibb is being a little economical with the truth. According to the new Schools Admission Code says, “Free Schools and Academies may, where their Funding Agreements permit, give priority in admission arrangements to children eligible for Free School Meals (in future, the Pupil Premium).” It appears, then, that this ability to prioritise has to be included in a Funding Agreement. If the Funding Agreement doesn’t allow for this prioritisation, then it won’t happen.

LA schools are not allowed by law to discriminate in favour of children with the Pupil Premium even if they want to do so. Academies and free schools have the option, but they will only use this option if it’s included in their Funding Agreement. The only way to find out if academies and free schools will take up this option would be to look at the Funding Agreement for each school, although after 1 May 2012, when schools publish their admission criteria for 2013/14, parents should be able to see which academies and free schools will prioritise pupils from the poorest backgrounds. If there is no mention of the Pupil Premium, then the academy or free school will not be prioritising them.

The new Schools Admission Code has only just come into force so it is unlikely that any academy or free school established before 2012 will have included a clause giving priority to children with the Pupil Premium in its Funding Agreement.

In any case, parents will find innovative teaching in schools which are not academies or free schools. All schools can decide what methods of teaching to use. Mr Gibb knows that, of course, but it suits him to pretend otherwise.

Mr Gibb also says that the new Admission Code had “overwhelming support” from parents. Parents who responded to the Admission Code consultation supported popular schools expanding but were divided over the question of prioritising children attracting the Pupil Premium: 175 parents agreed, 123 disagreed and 150 were not sure. Despite this mixed response, the DfE remained committed to allowing only academies and free schools to prioritise such children. The DfE has not explained why this option isn’t extended to all schools. It should do so.

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sarah dodds's picture
Tue, 27/03/2012 - 09:41

Is it cynical of me to state that this will turn out like the 3% of covnertors who are actually working in partnership with other schools?

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 27/03/2012 - 13:05

I don't think it's cynical at all. Evidence from experience goes something like this:

1 Academies are supposed to support under-performing schools. It's one of the "qualities" that Mr Gove trumpets. This gives the impression that academies collaborate in a spirit of professional altruism.
2 In reality, few (only 3%) converter academies have taken up this responsibility.
3 At the same time, propaganda is released that shows that these "trailblazing schools" are co-operating at an unprecedented level.

Now let's apply the same scenario to prioritising FSM pupils:

1 Academies and free schools are given the freedom to prioritise pupils from poorer backgrounds. Non-academies are forbidden from doing so. Parents won't realise non-academies are legally stopped from doing something that would benefit FSM pupils so they will think (as they are intended to do) that academies and free schools really care about disadvantaged children and non-academies don't.
2 Unless it's in the Funding Agreement, academies and free schools won't prioritise FSM pupils.
3 Nick Gibb, Schools Minister, praises academies and free schools for having the ability to prioritise pupils from poorer backgrounds. He doesn't say, of course, that academies and free schools can choose not to do so.

It will be interesting to find out how many Admission Criteria published by academies and free schools will actually use their much-publicised ability.

Melissa Benn's picture
Wed, 28/03/2012 - 08:19

Very interesting indeed Janet. And quite dastardly on the part of the government to, yet again, disallow maintained schools from doing something that appears marvellous - and that works so well in relation to the selective press release - but doesn't actually happen in the majority of cases.

Taken with the co-operation theme, and Henry's recent research on academy results, a bit of a pattern is emerging here, isn't it, in relation to government public relations strategy? You could call it: making the most of a very little, if that didn't make it sound more harmless than it actually is. It goes something like - make a broad, sweeping ideological point: illustrate with an example of best practice, albeit it one that happens in only a fraction of cases......and fail to tackle reality of what is happening throughout the system.

Meanwhile, certain journalists are offered privileged access to look at so called government success stories - creating a generally favourable impression of Coalition industry and commitment to fairness etc.

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