The campaign for fair admissions to schools

Margaret Tulloch from Comprehensive Future sets out the challenges of ensuring fair schools admissions under proposals in the new education white paper

Margaret Tulloch is the secretary of Comprehensive Future

In the next few months the Coalition aims to implement the changes in its white paper, The Importance of Teaching. It is vital that the media focus on pupil premiums, blazers and soldiers in the classroom does not result in a failure to oppose proposals within the white paper for the abolition of important provisions, introduced by the last government, to make school admissions fairer.

Michael Gove refers to the local authorities’ critical role in ensuring fair access to all schools, including academies and free schools but he proposes to introduce legislation to end:

“… the bureaucratic requirements for local authorities to establish an admissions forum and provide annual reports to a central schools adjudicator.”

Furthermore, consultation on a ‘simplified and less prescriptive’ School Admissions Code is expected early in the New Year.

Mr Gove wants to emulate high-performing Finland, a worthwhile aim, but chooses to ignore one essential difference with England – Finland’s non selective system. Ending selection on ability and aptitude would make the system fairer and simplify the code at a stroke.

Although we were very disappointed in the failure of the Labour government to end selection on ability and aptitude, Comprehensive Future welcomed what Labour did to end covert selection. Local authorities are required to annually report to the Schools Adjudicator on local admission arrangements. This allows the Adjudicator to intervene to require compliance with the Code.

Labour also introduced statutory admission forums which include representatives of local schools, parents and the community. These have a duty to consider the fairness of arrangements in their local context so allowing scrutiny of the admission arrangements of all local schools.

If thousands of schools become admission authorities, as schools change to academies or ‘free’ schools are set up, effective monitoring of admissions would become even more essential. Even the Department for Education’s own impact assessment of the white paper says this could lead to an increase in ‘stratification’ unless there is a “strong and effective Admissions Code”.

Instead of abolition, admission forums should be given more support to carry out their work to monitor fairness in admissions. We should go further and have all admissions criteria agreed locally by a properly supported admission forum rather than by the school’s governing body.

Furthermore the local authority, as well as coordinating applications, should make the decision about which applicants meet the admissions criteria. Current regulations allow this. Making this a requirement would take this management burden off schools and bring openness to the procedure. This is supported in recent research by Barnardo’s and by research commissioned by the DfE.

In the coming months we will campaign for the democratically elected local authorities to hold the ring ensuring fairness, admission forums to be given more support to carry out their work effectively and an end to selection by ability and aptitude. Surely a progressive agenda?

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