21 March 2016
Nicky Morgan MP
Secretary of State for Education
Dear Nicky Morgan,
As Chair of Comprehensive Future, an all-party group that has campaigned since 2003 for fair admissions to England’s schools, I would like to add our voice to the growing disquiet at your recent decision to pursue the banning of civil society groups from registering an objection to unfair school admission arrangements to the Schools Adjudicator.
As you are surely well aware, many schools are guilty of breaking the letter and the spirit of the admissions code. With the government’s accelerating programme of academisation – creating, in effect, thousands of own admissions authorities – and the deliberate running down of local authority oversight, including local admissions forums, this situation has only got worse in recent years.
To argue that only parents and local authorities should have the right to lodge an objection to a possible gross abuse of the Code, is, in effect, to give official sanction to many schools to carry on as they are, thus denying thousands of parents a fair chance of getting their child into the school of their choice.
Over the years we at Comprehensive Future have watched as the admissions process has become ever more bewildering and difficult to navigate, particularly when schools have multiple, overlapping criteria. It takes an exceptionally determined and well -informed parent to pursue a complaint with the Adjudicator.
Civil society organisations therefore play an extremely valuable role, and one entirely in the public interest, in ensuring that the rights of parents and their children are safeguarded in this matter.
Following a national survey of secondary schools criteria in 2014, Comprehensive Future made a number of objections over the years, two of which were related to aptitude criteria which are not in the code. As a result one the school immediately dropped the criterion, one was required by the adjudicator to make changes. The third related to giving priority to children of former pupils which, as a result of our objection, was dropped from the schools criteria. We chose only to make three objections but had we had the resources we might possibly have lodged further complaints.
The vast majority of recent objections lodged by other organisations, such as the BHA, have also been upheld by the Schools Adjudicator, Dr Elizabeth Passmore, whose main concern, as stated in her last last annual report, was lack of resources to deal with these justified applications – not the applications themselves.
Dr Passmore’s comments are best interpreted as a need for more robust support, and funding, for the Adjudicator, not for the elimination of the rights of certain groups to lodge an objection. in the first place.
To claim that such groups are ‘vexatious’, as you did in a recent speech, is therefore to misunderstand the crucial interaction of civil and political society in safeguarding our democracy, and therefore to risk degrading the very quality of that democracy.