Admissions warning as schools told to stamp out unlawful practices

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Schools that act as their own admissions authorities, such as academies and free schools, do not always understand their responsibilities when it comes to lawful admissions.

Schools that act as their own admissions authorities, such as academies and free schools, do not always understand their responsibilities when it comes to lawful admissions.

The annual report of the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) – covering the 2012/13 academic year – has ruled that too many admission authorities are not complying fully with the School Admissions Code 2012.

There are now 7,500 schools which act as their own admissions authorities, including academies, free schools, voluntary aided and foundation schools, and the report issues a warning to them over continuing breaches of the code.

It is the second year since changes to the code were introduced and the report says that in some cases there has been a lack of consultation by admissions authorities over changes to their policies, meaning many prospective parents have been left in the dark.

All admission authorities must determine their arrangements every year by April 15 and must display them in full on their website. However, this is not happening in many cases.

Overall, the OSA dealt with 189 objections to admissions arrangements during 2012/13, with 162 new cases and 27 carried forward from the previous year. The cases related to 94 admission authorities and outcomes included 46 objections fully upheld, 51 partially upheld and 20 not upheld.

While the OSA cannot consider the circumstances of an individual child, it still received more than half of the new referrals from parents, with many of these coming as a result of their child not securing a place at their first choice school. 

The report states: “Parents have complained that they were not aware that the arrangements against which they applied for a place had been changed from those they had known, perhaps when an older sibling was seeking a school place, or that the arrangements had been changed without proper consultation.

“Other objectors complained that they had been unable to find a school’s admission arrangements on its website. Some of those objecting after June 30 said that the arrangements had not been available any earlier.”

The report emphasises the code’s “clear requirements” for the publication of admission arrangements but says that adjudicators were “frequently unable” to find details on school websites.

It added: “All too often anyone looking for admission arrangements has to guess where they may be hidden. If eventually they are located they often do not include the year to which they apply so parents are left not knowing whether these are the criteria that will apply for admission for their child in the following year. 

“In some cases despite extensive searching of a school’s website no relevant arrangements can be located.”

The report warns schools who are their own admissions authority that consultation over changes to admissions must be carried out more widely than simple letters to parents or notifications on the website. It also warns that many schools have not been determining their admissions by April 15 as required.

The report states: “The relevant admission authority for an own admission authority school, be it the governing body or academy trust, needs to follow the code carefully so that it consults on its proposed arrangements if necessary, determines its arrangements on time and then immediately publishes them. Schools that are their own admission authority have a responsibility to provide all the necessary information on their websites: it is more than time that they understood it is not an optional extra.”

It calls on the Department for Education to ensure clear guidance for new schools and those changing status and becoming their own admissions authority.

Elsewhere, the OSA says some secondary schools have arrangements that are too complex and “require a parent to be well-organised and study the arrangements carefully, sometimes several years before applying” just to give their child a realistic chance of gaining a place at the school.

Also, too many arrangements for 6th form admissions fail to comply with the code, with some asking for information about behaviour or attendance records from applicants new to the school.

The report adds: “The code is clear that schools which admit students to their sixth forms must have an admission number (that is the number of places that will be allocated to students new to the school). Far too many schools seem to think that the code does not apply to admissions into the sixth form.”

The full report can be downloaded from www.education.gov.uk/schoolsadjudicator


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