Today’s Annual Report from the Chief Schools Adjudicator provides more evidence to back up our campaign for a wide ranging review of school admissions, not just of the Code but how the whole system operates. In what is quite damning report about school admissions the Chief Adjudicator says that the recommendations she made last year seem to have been ignored. The report is wide ranging covering for example fair access protocols, the role of local authorities, admissions to sixth forms and to reception classes for summer born children. Complaints about school admissions have gone from 162 last year to 274. Another 171 complaints will be reported on in next year’s report. The main offenders are schools which are admission authorities ie foundation and voluntary aided schools or academies Only 30 of the complaints were about community or voluntary controlled schools where the Local Authority is the admission authority. Many of the conclusions reflect those from our analysis of secondary school admissions criteria in Spring. Her report says – 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 Code that are reasonable, clear, objective and procedurally fair.

The report says that Some of our findings about the objections referred to the OSA clearly indicate that the admission authority had not read the current Code… Some schools it seems are ignoring the overall principle of the Code – that is ‘In drawing up their admission arrangements admission authorities must ensure that the practices and the criteria used to decide the allocation of school places are fair, clear and objective. Parents should be able to look at a set of arrangements and understand easily how places for that school will be allocated.

 Some schools that are their own admission authority are not providing the required information to parents or failing to consult properly and some are requesting prohibited information in their supplementary information forms. Deadlines to provide information publicly are not being met by some schools. In many cases the information parents should have is difficult to find. Admission arrangements for all relevant age groups are often difficult to find on a school’s website; do not make clear the year to which they apply; or are incomplete. Finding admission arrangements remains a challenge even for adjudicators who spend much time looking for them on schools’ websites. …. In some cases despite extensive searching of a school’s website no relevant arrangements can be found. All own admission authority schools must publish their arrangements on their website or if they do not have a website must make clear where their arrangements can be seen.

The complexity of admission arrangements of own admission authority schools is criticized. The report says – The admission arrangements determined by local authorities for community and voluntary controlled schools as observed by adjudicators… are almost always clear and straightforward so it is easy to understand how places will be allocated. The arrangements of schools that are their own admission authority may be equally clear and uncomplicated, but frequently are less clear and more complicated. The complex arrangements compared with the clearest have some or all of: numerous oversubscription criteria and sometimes sub-categories within them; different categories of places; more than one catchment area; feeder schools; tens of points available and needed to gain priority; banding and therefore tests to be taken; aptitude assessment; and several faith-based oversubscription criteria….. For popular schools that set complicated arrangements, especially if they include tests for banding purposes and/or for places allocated for aptitude and/or selective places the first hurdle in gaining a place is to take the test. This may mean taking different tests on more than one Saturday if the schools being considered as preferences each set their own tests unlike those local authorities where one test is used by all the selective schools.

Faith schools are particularly mentioned in the report. It says for example ‘Some of the schools with a religious character have faith-based oversubscription criteria with faith requirements that are extensive and require a parent to be well organised and study the arrangements carefully, sometimes several years before applying for a place, to ensure that their child will have a realistic chance of gaining a place at the school. The report says that these schools need to look carefully at their faith-based oversubscription criteria and ensure they comply with the Code’s requirement that parents can easily understand how any faith-based criteria can be met.

Comprehensive Future opposed the ending of the requirement to have admission forums. Interestingly the report says that just under half the local authorities have retained admissions forums and that the local authorities which retain them are ‘unanimous in valuing it as a mechanism for open and frank discussion about admissions in a local context.’