Submission to the RSA Academies Commission

 

Comprehensive Future is the campaign for fair school admission policies in England. The campaign is non party political and open to all. By lobbying Government, providing evidence, informing the media and supporting local campaigns on admissions we aim to bring about a comprehensive secondary school system in England with fair admissions criteria to all publicly funded schools.

In response to question 3)    What are the implications of an academised system on admissions?

Our concerns about academies and admissions

When a community school becomes an academy it is able to set its own admission arrangements. So it joins the already large proportion of schools able to do this. We are concerned that unless there is effective scrutiny and other changes requiring a stronger role for the local authority it is likely that as more schools become academies and therefore admission authorities covert selection and segregation will increase. Furthermore unless there are changes the situation will become even more complex for parents.

A high number of own admission authority schools is found to be associated with increased social segregation. For example Allen and Vignoles from LSE (2006) found an association between local authorities with higher proportions of pupils in schools that controlled their own admissions or have explicit selection by ability and the level of FSM segregation.

Effective scrutiny becomes less likely if admission forums (involving local stakeholders) disappear and local authorities do not use the powers they have.  Our survey of admission forums (http://www.comprehensivefuture.local/PDF/AdmissionForumsSummary.pdf ) indicated that they can play a very important part in bringing about fair admissions. However the requirement to have statutory admission forums was removed in the latest Education Act. It seems that some local authorities have already given them up. The last Annual Report of the School Adjudicator (November 2011) indicated that some local authorities were not objecting to unfair arrangements in their local schools.  We welcome the Government’s extension of the right to object to any person or body but there needs to be stronger safeguards other  than a reliance on the opportunity to object.  The ability to ensure fair admissions should not just rely on objections being made to the Adjudicator.

Some changes we want to see –

Local agreement on admission arrangements.

Comprehensive Future believes that there should be openness and transparency over admission arrangements so all publicly funded schools are involved in local admission arrangements operate the same system. The situation should end where some schools are able to set their criteria independently and others cannot. The responsibility for setting admissions criteria independently should be taken out of all schools, whether academy, trust, foundation, voluntary or community. The setting of individual schools admission criteria should be the responsibility of the local admissions forum (or similar body) agreeing with each local school, following the guidance and regulations set nationally.

Management of admissions

Local authorities are required to coordinate admissions, so parents do not have to apply to each school. This was a welcome change introduced several years ago. But once the parents have expressed a preference own admission authorities decide if the schools meet their admissions criteria. Comprehensive Future wants to see own admission authorities allowing another body to manage admissions ie deciding which applicants meet oversubscription criteria. This would be more transparent and remove a burden from schools. Regulations already allow this for maintained schools. Local authorities could manage admissions like this for all schools.

Banding

We know of schools becoming academies which have introduced banding. The current Code allows banding across the intake, across the local authority or across the national ability range.

Comprehensive Future believes that schools which are admission authorities should not be allowed to band across the applicants for the school as only those children whose parents are able to bring their children for the test are eligible to be admitted. This is unfair, discriminating against parents who may for many reasons might be unable to bring their children to a test or have not been aware of these conditions of entry.

In areas where average achievement levels are relatively low if schools base their admissions on the national ability range, it is detrimental to other local schools attempting to achieve a balanced intake.  Therefore, only banding across the range of ability in the local authority area should be allowed, with tests taken by all children at primary schools, as in Hackney.  Only this should be considered ‘fair banding’. A Departmental consultation in 2008 showed that this had ‘overwhelming’ support over the other two arrangements allowed.

Some banding arrangements seem unnecessarily complicated. We fail to see why some admission authorities need to have banding for inner and outer areas, or need 9 bands when in the same area other admission authorities use 5 bands. This unnecessarily increases complexity for parents.

Power of the Secretary of State to agree variations

The current Code allows the Secretary of State to allow academies to vary the requirement to comply with the Code – ‘where there is demonstrable need’. (School Admissions Code page 3 paragraph 4).   Furthermore the Code specifically excludes objections to the Adjudicator about any such agreement (page 24 paragraph 3.3d ).

In parliamentary answer (31.1.2012) to Ian Mearns MP Secretary of State for Schools  Nick Gibb said The Secretary of State can agree different arrangements in individual academies and free schools but we do not expect to have many requests for him to do so. He would only agree to such requests in exceptional and limited circumstances, where it is clear that the change would benefit local children and the community. Comprehensive Future believes this provision to be unfair and should be removed and that all schools should comply with the Code.

Supplementary Information Forms.

Becoming an own admission authority allows schools to introduce supplementary information forms asking for more information. Comprehensive Future believes that

the use of supplementary information forms should be prohibited except for faith schools and then the requirement should be that the information sought is clear, objective and fair.  The OSA (2009, 2010) recommended that the national religious bodies produce a model form. This has not been implemented.  Since selection on aptitude or ability is based on a test there is no need to ask for information on this on a supplementary information form.  This could allow covert selection.  The previous Code stipulated that parents could obtain the supplementary forms from the local authority. This has changed and schools can require parents to attend the school to get them but they do have to be available in the September joint prospectus.