“I consider that it is not fair that gaining a place in a nursery class for which attendance is not compulsory can affect to such a very large extent a child’s chance of gaining a place at the school.”
Office of the Schools Adjudicator
, October 2013, re primary academies in the Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust (CHAT)
The three CHAT primary academies, Cuckoo Hall, Woodpecker Hall and Kingfisher Hall, regularly praised (and often confused) by Education Secretary, Michael Gove, gave priority on their oversubscription criteria to children who had attended the schools’ nurseries. The Schools Adjudicator ruled this did not comply with the Schools Admission Code:
“Parents should not feel that they have to take a place at the nursery in order to have a reasonable chance of gaining a place in the school and that if they cannot or do not choose to do so or are not offered a place in the nursery that they will have very little chance indeed of gaining a place in the primary school.”
The CHAT academies weren’t alone is giving priority to children attending nurseries attached to primary schools. In August and September 2013 the Adjudicator has ruled against similar arrangements at schools including:
St Paul’s CofE Primary School, Hertfordshire
Brookside Community Primary School, Somerset
St Michael’s CofE Primary, Hertfordshire
Woodnewton Primary School, Northamptonshire
Headlands Primary School, Northamptonshire
St Josephs Catholic Primary School, Somerset
Nicholas Hawksmoor Primary School, Northamptonshire
St James CE VA Primary School, Northamptonshire
St Gregory’s Catholic Primary School, Northamptonshire
Chacombe Primary, Northamptonshire
Many of the schools argued that continuity was beneficial. The Adjudicator agreed there was educational value in such arrangements but it was unfair to prioritise children who’d attended a named nursery school. This would discriminate against children whose parents didn’t want them to attend the nursery school (perhaps because they’d made other arrangements) or because they could not (maybe they weren’t living in the area at the time or they’d applied for a nursery place but were unsuccessful). In addition, parents may feel pressurised to request a place in a nursery when they didn’t want to simply because they thought it would secure their child a place at the attached schools, the Adjudicator said.
The CHAT ruling also raises the question about late publication of oversubscription criteria. Objections against criteria have to be made by 30 June. If a school doesn’t publish its criteria in enough time for objections to be made then the school could get away with unlawful criteria. This is especially true with secondary schools. Parents are deciding now where to send their Year 6 children next year. They may be deterred from applying to certain schools if admissions arrangements have clauses which make parents think their children stand little chance of gaining a place.
Finally, these rulings raise the question as to how many other primary schools in England are in breach of the Schools Admission Code by prioritising children who’ve attended attached nurseries. Schools need to be reminded, perhaps, that it is against the law to be in breach of the Schools Admissions Code.
NOTE: All rulings can be downloaded from the website of the Office of the Schools Adjudicator here