Selection, administrative blunders, feeder schools and faith – just some of the ways in which schools flout the Admission Code

Janet Downs's picture
How do schools dodge the Admission Code? A look at School Adjudicator rulings since 26 June reveals gives the answer.


Selection of pupils is allowed in grammar schools and on grounds of aptitude (up to 10%) in specialist schools. But sometimes schools go too far. Camden School for Girls, a Voluntary-Aided (VA) school, was censured for auditioning pupils applying for music places. This went beyond testing for musical aptitude. The school was also criticized for requiring a financial deposit.

The Adjudicator slated Altrincham Grammar School for Boys for introducing an unfair selection test which could potentially disadvantage children whose first language was not English and able children with special educational needs.


Some schools don’t print their admission criteria in time. St Barnabas Catholic Academy, Nottingham, and Carre’s Grammar School, Sleaford, were two. St Barnabas was criticised further for putting an unnecessary burden on parents by asking for information already given on the local authority common application form. And Carre’s admission information was not easy to find.

Admission criteria must not be confusing but often are. This is especially true where schools list a number of prioritised categories. The Adjudicator was so bemused by criteria at Penrice Academy, Cornwall, that she said it wasn’t clear how parents would know if their child satisfied “criterion iv” or “criterion vi”.


Schools are allowed to name feeder schools but their selection must be reasonable, clear and fair. Skegness Grammar School, administered by Greenwood Dale Academies Trust, violated the Code in this respect. The Adjudicator also found an administrative blunder: arrangements for entry into Y12 breached the Code because the school requested information over-and-above that required by the school’s admission criteria.

Some primary schools think they can prioritise children attending an attached nursery. But this discriminates against children whose parents were unable or unwilling to gain a nursery place. This was given an unusual twist in the case of Catholic schools run by St. John Bosco Multi Academy Company, Dudley. An objection was raised that non-Catholic children who had attended attached nurseries were given priority over Catholic children that had not. The Adjudicator ruled that such prioritisation wasn’t allowed in any case whether the children were Catholic or non-Catholic.


Faith schools are allowed to prioritise faith children. But sometimes faith schools go beyond what is allowed and put in place criteria which could be discriminatory. The London Oratory has been censured twice before (see here and here) but the last criticism was overruled in March. The Adjudicator was asked to reconsider the quashed ruling. He has now done so. The Oratory breached 18 paragraphs of the Code and flouted guidance from its own Diocese “in a wholesale manner”. These violations resulted “at the very least a degree of social selection” and an intake which was “less ethnically diverse” than other schools in the area. Its criteria “unfairly disadvantaged Catholic families who are less well off”.

It appears the freedom given to academies, VA, foundation and free schools to set their own admission criteria can be infringed in such a way as to make them unfair. This is something, perhaps, for the new education secretary, Nicky Morgan, to address.

REFERENCES: The Schools Admission Code is downloadable here. Rulings are downloadable here.
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Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 23/07/2014 - 17:25

The code is clear so why isn't it legally enforced? When a parent can be fined for taking her child out of school for a day to attend her own wedding, while all the shenanigans that Janet describes are allowed to continue, shows a gross lack of balance. I hope the recently emboldened Tristram Hunt will look at this (both things). Action on the former has been hinted at. On the latter all that is needed is restore the right of the headteacher to make sensible decisions.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 23/07/2014 - 18:13

Roger - heads in academies are on the governing bodies so would be complicit in drawing up dodgy criteria. I'm not suggesting all violations are deliberate although the complexity of some suggests an intentional desire to discriminate for or against certain pupils or to deter pupils who might make exam results fall eg by drawing up catchment areas which exclude certain "undesirable" areas. But the heads would know what criteria had been "determined".

The Adjudicator will only act if the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) receives a formal complaint. This isn't easy because it requires detailed knowledge of the Admission Code. Objectors are expected to give details of the part of the Code which has been violated, for example.

I think the Adjudicator should be able to be more proactive (one for Tristram I think) and should be able to do a random sweep of admission criteria to discover if up-to-date criteria are published on a school's website. If they are, then the adjudicator should check they adhere to the Code and take action if they don't. If the criteria aren't published on time (and many aren't) then the school should be told it's lost the right to draw up its own criteria for the year in question and admissions will be decided according to the local authority's determined criteria.

That should make schools do what they're supposed to do by law.

Mark's picture
Thu, 07/08/2014 - 12:22

Really? Head teachers are often as corrupt as you can get. Head teachers such as Peter Kent of Lawrence Sheriff School now head of the grammar schools deliberately refused to abide by the Admissions Code. They unlawfully withdrew a place, refused to offer an appeal and refused to reconsider a new application. Head teachers and Governors should be prosecuted for misfeanse.

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