“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.