The annual report
of the Office of the Schools Adjudicator was slipped out last month, without much publicity. This is a shame as it makes some important points.
The OSA has specific, but limited powers. It must ensure compliance with the Admissions Code
and can receive objections to the admissions arrangements of individual schools by parents or other members of the public who believe them to be non-compliant.
However the adjudicator doesn’t have the powers or resources to police the system beyond the complaints it receives so it is possible for unfair, and possibly illegal, admissions to continue if no one complains.
That said, this annual report from the Chief Adjudicator, Dr Elizabeth Passmore, suggests that some aspects of school admissions are working well.
- Admission authorities have responded promptly to the requirement that they prioritise children who were previously looked after as well as looked after children.
- All 152 local authorities prepared and sent their reports on how admissions work in their areas to the OSA, not all on time, but more quickly than in previous years.
- The application of fair access protocol procedures are mainly working well to find schools for ‘hard to place’ children, although a small minority of schools don’t co-operate, employ delaying tactics or resist even to the point where action has to be taken to direct the school to admit a pupil.
However there are some concerns. Many admissions authorities (and the number of schools that manage their own admissions is growing as more schools convert to academy status) are failing to publish their admissions criteria, particularly on school websites. This means parents and others can’t know whether to object. Admission arrangements should be made available from April 15 – the deadline for changing arrangements – and June 30, the deadline for lodging an objection.
The OSA undertook a limited compliance exercise this year, looking at the websites of 50 admission authorities, both local authorities and schools that are their own admission authority, that had been involved in previous cases.
Of these only 14 showed the arrangements for 2013 in the appropriate period and by mid-September when parents are starting to make choices, this had only risen to 37. There are also concerns that too many schools fail to make their sixth form admissions clear.
The last Admissions Code introduced a new clause allowing the Secretary of State to waive the obligation on academies and free schools to comply with the admissions code if there is “demonstrable need”. In other words these schools can legally be non-compliant.
The OSA also flags up a continuing concern that academy schools that want to vary their admissions arrangements don’t have to apply to the OSA, as maintained schools do. Instead they go to the Education Funding Agency. This means that there may be no coherent overview in areas where several schools are changing arrangements at the same time, if one or more of the schools is an academy. It is also hard to see how a body can prove ‘demonstrable need’ that doesn't have that overview.
Dr Passmore suggests that, in the absence of further legislation on admissions (which ministers say they don’t want) the EFA should seek advice from the OSA before making a decision about a request for a variation.
She also reports concerns from local authorities about the prospects for children with particular needs once management of “in year admissions” is returned to individual schools from 2013 and about provision of secondary places in areas with a lot of academies/own admission schools once the current primary bulge starts feeding through. “It may prove difficult to provide additional places if those schools do not wish to expand. “ she states.
Finally the OSA had been asked by the DFE for an, “assessment of the impact in local areas of having more admission authorities and any implications for parental choice”
She points out that it is probably too early to judge how the rapid conversion to academy status post 20120 is working as changes to admissions arrangements need to be in place over a year before the intake that they affect actually start their new schools.
So the real impact of those conversions may be yet to come as hundreds of new academies may start to consider changing their admissions arrangements. The next crucial period is will be the spring/ summer of 2013 when schools can consult on varying their admissions arrangements, and parents have the right to object.
In short eternal vigilance is needed. See here for a briefing from Comprehensive Future
on how to object to admissions arrangements in your local school (assuming that they do publish them!)