Complex admission arrangements spark selection suspicions

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Too many admission procedures are ‘unnecessarily complex’, ask barred questions and appear to allow oversubscribed schools to select, the Office of the Schools Adjudicator has warned. Pete Henshaw reports.

 

Too many academies and faith schools have admission arrangements that appear to enable them to covertly select which children to admit, the chief schools adjudicator has warned.

The annual report of the Office of the Schools Adjudicator claims that too many schools that are their own admission authority – these are usually academy and faith schools – have “unnecessarily complex” admissions and often request prohibited information from families.

The report – which covers the period September 2013 to August 2014 – does not give exact numbers, but states: “Admission arrangements for too many schools that are their own admission authority are unnecessarily complex. The arrangements appear to be more likely to enable the school to choose which children to admit rather than simply having oversubscription criteria as required by paragraph 1.8 of the (School Admissions) Code that are reasonable, clear, objective and procedurally fair.”

It continues: “Schools that are their own admission authority often have arrangements that lack the required information and request prohibited information in their supplementary information forms.”

The School Admissions Code includes a long list of activities which are barred when determining school admissions. These include:

  • Selection by ability.

  • Prioritising on the basis of practical or financial support from parents.

  • Interviewing children or parents.

  • Taking account of reports from previous schools about achievement, attitude or behaviour.

  • Requesting financial contributions or deposits.

Admission authorities are also banned from asking for certain pieces of supplementary information, such as for the first language of the parents and personal details about parents and families.

Chief schools adjudicator, Dr Elizabeth Passmore, says in the report that the best arrangements for oversubscription have just three to six criteria and “a suitable tie-breaker if more than one child has equal priority for the last available place”.

However, she said that some arrangements by own admission authority schools are so complex that “often it is unclear how the arrangements are actually applied”. These arrangements often had: 

  • Numerous oversubscription criteria and sub-categories.

  • Different categories of places.

  • More than one catchment area.

  • Banding with tests to be taken.

  • Aptitude assessments.

  • Several faith-based oversubscription criteria.

The School Admissions Code states that oversubscription criteria must be “reasonable, clear, objective, procedurally fair, and comply with all relevant legislation, including equalities legislation”.

It adds: “Admission authorities must ensure that their arrangements will not disadvantage unfairly, either directly or indirectly, a child from a particular social or racial group, or a child with a disability or SEN, and that other policies around school uniform or school trips do not discourage parents from applying for a place for their child.”

In the case of oversubscription, the Code emphasises that the highest priority must be given to looked-after and previously looked-after children. 

However, the report says that adjudicators have encountered incidents involving “a lack of clarity about priority for, or inaccurate definitions about, looked-after children and previously looked-after children”.

However, the report does state that an objection during 2013/14 about the inclusion in admission arrangements of priority for Pupil Premium pupils was not upheld. The School Admissions Code states that using the Pupil Premium among admission or oversubscription criteria is permitted.

In the report, Dr Passmore says that while some schools were “anxious to, and did, put matters right as quickly as possible” when found to be in breach of the Code, others were “reluctant to change and comply”. She adds: “Questions remain: why do some schools decide to have complex arrangements? What is their aim?”

Furthermore, the report states that too many schools that are their own admission authority are also failing to comply with the Code in respect of “consultation about, determination of, and publication of” their admission arrangements. 

Many fail to determine their admission arrangements by the April 15 deadline each year, as is required.

The report adds: “Too many schools, both maintained and academy schools, that are their own admission authority, are failing to comply with the duties placed on them about admissions. Parents and everyone else are denied the opportunity to see the school’s arrangements and, if they think it necessary, to object on time if the arrangements appear not to comply with admissions law and the Code.”

Elsewhere, the report also finds that admission arrangements for 6th forms are “frequently found to contravene the Code”, with common faults being that they are difficult to find, lack an admission number, do not include oversubscription criteria, and have “application forms that request information prohibited by the Code”.

The report states: “Far too many schools persist in thinking that the Code does not apply to admissions into the 6th form.”

The full report can be downloaded at http://bit.ly/1CrYRCI and the School Admissions Code can be found at http://bit.ly/1sURwf9

Photo: iStock


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