Survey on Admissions Forums – summary of findings

Comprehensive Future campaigns for fair admissions. During the passage of the Education Bill we intend to lobby for the retention of Admission Forums as we consider they make an important contribution to ensuring fair admissions. However we recognise that some changes may be needed which would improve the Forums’ ability to operate effectively so we sent a questionnaire to chairs of Admission Forums across the country.

The questionnaire

152 questionnaires were sent to local authorities for the attention of the chairs of admission forums

Responses were asked on

Name of authority (these not to be made public)

Is the forum for whole LA or do you have forum for parts of authority?

Do you have representatives of other authorities on the forum?

How many members?

Do they attend regularly?

Is the membership sufficiently representative?

How often do you meet?

What do you consider to be the value of the forum?

What are the current most important issues?

Do you have sufficient resources?

Are you satisfied with your powers and functions? Would you like more or fewer? Have you any recommendations and comments on improvements to admissions?

What is your reaction to proposed abolition?

Comments on the Local authority report to the adjudicator – comments on Chief School Adjudicator’s proposal to make its focus flexible and the requirements that the forum should possibly approve it and the Government proposal to end the requirement to report to the Adjudicator

The response

40 Responses have been received so far from –

10 Metropolitan Districts

16 Unitary authorities

8 County Councils

6 London Boroughs

Membership and meetings

97% of the admission forums covered the whole authority, 1 county council has a 3 part forum for different parts of the county.

10 forums include a representative from another authority

84% had a membership between 12 – 20       members, size varied between 10-26.

84% of members attend regularly

Most forums (55%) meet termly but some meet twice a year others 4 to 5 times.

68% considered themselves representative but several mentioned aspects they would like to change. Some had difficulty recruiting parents to the forum. Some wanted a better balance in favour of the community rather than schools or elected councillors.

Abolition of admission forums

The vast majority of those responding (95%) to the survey were strongly opposed to abolition, clear on the value of retaining a local representative forum to scrutinise local admission practices.

They valued their –

  • Focus on fairness in admissions for parents and children across the local authority
  • Ability to scrutinise and monitor all aspects of admissions in all admission authorities
  • Independence
  • Informality
  • Ability to provide a unique opportunity to bring together the various parties with an interest in school admissions. One forum mentioned the opportunity it gave to Diocesan representatives to listen to concerns of schools other than those of a religious character. Another wrote of encouraging community groups facing difficulties getting places to come to speak to the forum. ‘A clear public process- nothing behind closed doors’
  • Being able to build consensus on sensitive issues such as the fair access policy.
  • Were able to bring about an interchange of views from affected (or potentially affected) schools and consider difficult proposals. ‘An effective safety valve – but more than that!’

Their main reasons against abolition were –

  • The increase in own admission authority schools mean there is even more need for an objective body to champion the rights of parents and children challenging school policies and practices which are likely to disadvantage vulnerable children, young people and their families.
  • A result would be more fragmented admission arrangements hard for parents to understand; less exchange of information between schools prior to setting admission arrangements and a greater danger of breaches of the Code going undetected or unchallenged. The consequences could be schools manipulating admission arrangements to work for them instead of parents. The ethos of the Code is that parents choose schools not the other way round, this may change without the Forum
  • It would be a loss of a unique opportunity for representatives of groups working in partnership to come together in an atmosphere of co-operation and collaboration to work to secure fair admissions.
  • It would result in the removal of some of the safeguards that are in place where the Forum monitors and agrees arrangements and takes appropriate steps on behalf of groups of parents/ schools etc within LA areas.
  • There will be an increase in the number of issues/objections referred to the Office of the School Adjudicator by parents, local authorities and individual schools. 

Issues considered by the forums were

Streamlining the coordinated in-year admissions process to ensure pupils are placed quickly; equality of access to more vulnerable pupils to all categories of schools; looked after children; pressure on primary school places; admission priorities for primary places; Fair Access Protocol for children with challenging needs; changes to school transport; catchment areas and planned admission numbers;  proposal by a neighbouring authority which if successful would have disadvantaged some children in the county ; academies/foundation schools and possible changes in their admissions policies; helping to  encourage most schools changing to the same number of bands for the banding tests and that the banding schools deciding that children take only one test at their primary school, so only tested once; balance between supporting LA policy of encouraging greater use of  on-line applications (with the consequent resource savings) whilst ensuring that the children of those who cannot or choose not to use the internet are not disadvantaged; review of current measurement system used for distance criteria and tie breaker categories;  objection (unsuccessful) to selection by aptitude and now monitoring its effect; academies failing to provide fair access particularly in-year admissions; shortage of primary places and outborough children taking local places because of the Greenwich judgement.

Functions and powers

Although in the majority were satisfied with resources, representation and their powers several respondents expressed concerns over some issues. Although 89% were satisfied with resources a few said they expected this to be a problem in the future. 58% were satisfied with powers of the forum. 79% were satisfied with the functions. 46% reported there were barriers to their effective working. Mainly a point made by several forums was that they wanted stronger powers saying that they would be more effective if they could make recommendations to schools which were binding on the schools subject to an appeal to the Adjudicator.

The Local Authority Report.

Views were divided on whether the local authority report to the adjudicator should continue. Most respondents wanted to see the LA report retained. Some thought that since their LA reports to the forum on local issues there was no need to complete a further report to the adjudicator. When local issues cannot be resolved the forum/LA and parents can appeal to the adjudicator. The report should still be required by commissioned by the forum for local purposes only and to understand where preference is being met and how admission processes work locally.  Others thought flexibility in the form of the report is welcomed, but believed that not requiring the production of any report at all is a retrograde step.

Comments and suggestions for improvement.

Primary class size was mentioned by some saying thatthere is confusion for parents as theyhave a right of appeal, but they find it is effectively blocked by the class size legislation that prohibits classes of more than 30 pupils so offering a full appeal hearing process is inappropriate in the way that is raises expectations for parents and incurs considerable costs for schools and authorities.

One forum said VA and other own admission authority schools should get a clear policy on admissions and then have the LA admissions team administer it.

Some mentioned the need for forums to have more of a role monitoring school appeals.

On in-year admissions it was said there is a crucial need for in year admissions to remain with the LA as it has been invaluable since its inception. Fair Access Protocols were said to work well in distributing and placing difficult applications. They should be retained and academies/free schools expected to participate.

Some wanted to see the Code simplified, others said that it was a technical document and the do’s and don’t were useful, a parents guide was needed as well. The point was made that admissions have vastly improved in recent years, thanks to the Code.