“Complaints about schools’ admissions policies dismissed by watchdog”
Headline on Press Release
Bristol Cathedral Choir School (BCCS) and Cathedral Primary School (CPS) March 2014
While the press release was correct in saying the adjudicator did not uphold the four initial complaints about the admission criteria at BCCS, a sponsored secondary academy, and two complaints about CPS, a free school which opened in 2013 in temporary accommodation pending its move to the basement of Bristol’s Central Library
in 2015, it played down the flaws which the Schools Adjudicator
found during the investigation.
The school admitted the Adjudicator required both schools to make alterations to their admissions policies. However, the press release, issued by PR firm Edge Media, described these as “minor changes”.
So, what were the admissions criteria which didn’t adhere* to the Schools Admission Code?
1Implying the school had discretion over whether to admit a child with a statement of special educational need (SEN) which named the school. Schools are obliged to admit such pupils. The Adjudicator noted "the text about the admission of pupils with statements of SEN into the sixth form was in the correct format". However, the Adjudicator made it clear that the "current text" applying to the school implied it had discretion. She made it clear "this is not the case".
2The test which selects the 10% of pupils for aptitude for music was a test of musical ability.
3Asking to see a full birth certificate. This is not allowed under the Code.
4The Supplementary Information Form (SIF) asked for details about both parents. The Code forbids any criteria which appears to judge applicants on the marital status of parents.
5There appeared to be different academic entry requirements for pupils transferring from within the school to the sixth form and external pupils.
It appears, then, the complaints which triggered the investigation were thrown out but other infringements came to light when the Adjudicator studied the admission criteria
The Adjudicator's findings raise the question about how musical aptitude is measured. Musical Aptitude Tests (MATs) are widely used by schools who select on musical aptitude. They are supposed to test a child’s ability to recognise pitch, melody, texture and rhythm. But are children who are familiar with musical vocabulary such as note and chord likely to score higher on MATs than other children? And sample tests are, as you might expect, available for purchase on the internet.
Critics argue that selecting 10% of pupils for musical aptitude filters out disadvantaged pupils. And it’s true that BCCS has just 4.9% of its pupils eligible for free school meals
(FSM). This compares with the national average for state secondary schools of 16.3% and a Bristol average of 23%. And the school manages to attract a larger number of previously high-attaining pupils than would be expected at a comprehensive school. The 2013 GCSE cohort
had 57% previously high-attaining pupils and only 8% previously low-attainers.
Interestingly, the principal of BCCS/CPS told a local paper
in January the admission criteria for CPS had “been approved nationally by the Department for Education.” This raises a further question about how it’s possible the DfE can approve admission criteria for free schools which don’t adhere to the Schools Admission Code including one which violates one of the Code’s most emphatic rules that schools MUST admit SEN pupils whose statements name the school.
Perhaps the infringements of the Code by BCCS and CPS weren’t as “minor” as the PR spin suggests.
16 April 2014. The thread above has been amended. It originally said there were just four complaints about the school. There were actually six. All six of the initial complaints were not upheld. However, as stated above, the Adjudicator found the schools' admission criteria still did not adhere to the Admissions Code. These infringements were summarised above.
I have made it clear the Adjudicator found the wording concerning the entry of SEN children into the sixth form was correct.
I originally said the media firm who issued the press release was Edge Hill. It was Edge Media. This has been corrected.
I also said the free school opened in 2013 in the basement of Bristol Central Library. This was incorrect. The free school opened in temporary accommodation and will move to the basement of Bristol Central Library in 2015.
Thanks to Neil Blundell for his feedback. I'm happy to make any amendments.