The New Admissions Code: a Nerds-Eye View

Ah! The long-awaited Admissions Code. This is a field where my
rantings come from the benefit of hard-won experience. I bear many
Admissions battle-scars. And I trash everything Gove-esque that
emerges from the DfE, don’t I, so I must surely have this document in
my sights for a dismantling. No?

No.

Let me say thanks to the good grafters and drafters at the DfE for a
document that is clear, accessible, mercifully short and covers (at
least, i think so, at first pass) all the important things I hoped and
expected to see. I do have some holes to pick in it, of course, but in
the interests of fairness, here’s what’s good:

– all objections to admission arrangements will come under the
auspices of the Schools Adjudicator, so no separate arrangements for
Academies any more

– the requirement to consult properly on changes to admissions
arrangements remains

– the position on the requirement around SEN admissions is clear.

(For anyone who saw my twitter exchange with @toadmeister earlier in
the week about the West London Free School admissions arrangements
(http://www.westlondonfreeschool.co.uk/userfiles/WLFS%20admissions%20arrangeme…
) this is important because it underlines the problem with their
current para 14. This code is clear – children with a statement
special educational needs that names the school must be admitted.)

– the code reaffirms the priority for looked after children (though
with an important caveat, of which more later)

– at page 8, para 1.6 the code clearly references and outlaws a number
of requirements which some schools have used to achieve covert
selection. This can only be a good thing.

– on page 9, para 1.7i the code is clear that a state school cannot
name a fee-paying independent school as a feeder (although I would
like to see greater clarity about fee-paying ‘feeder’ nurseries /
daycare provision being explicitly outlawed for entrance to primary
schools as this seems a grey area)

– p12, para 1.26 requires schools operating a selection test to inform
parents of the outcome of that test before they make a decision sbout
applying to any other schools. Personally I am opposed to selective
schooling, but for as long as it continues to exist, this is a
sensible requireent and very helpful to parents trying to exercise
their preferences from an informed position.

– the code requires admission authorities to be clear that there are
no guarantees to parents that they will get their preferred school
(they are expressing a preference, not exercising a choice); this
should be the case currently too, but clarity and honesty about this
is important.

– p17, para 2.4 takes further measures against covert selection. In
fact, anyone who wonders how selection can operate in non-selective
schools would do well to read this section and 1.6 for hints and tips
about how it’s done.

– paras 2.7 & 2.14 preserve sensible requirements about authorities
admitting only according to published criteria, and having good fair
access protocols in place.

– pars 2.15 provides for some good exceptions to the ‘infant class
size’ rule for twins and multiple births, while preserving the rule
itself (maximum of 30). But there is one big failing here, which I’ll
pick up later.

– p24 para 3.11 reiterates again the priorities for looked after
children and those with special educational needs, which is as it
should be

– para 3.15 makes clear local authority powers of direction which are
robust and welcome (though sadly not extended to academies on their
patch).

All good stuff. So what are the pitfalls? Well, the ones that I see are:

– Though the Admissions Code applies to academies, the Secretary of
State reserves to himself powers to vary this requirement to observe
the code. Convenient. Thus Academies remain his personal fiefdom in a
way that should give us all pause for thought.

– there is no requirement to consult on increases to a school’s
published admission number (and indeed a presumption in favour of
increases). At one level, this might seem like a welcome step away
from bureaucracy, but this fails to recognise that admissions numbers
are realised in actual pupil numbers hi h have impact in terms of a
school’s relationship with the community it sits in, with traffic
management arrangements in the local area and with the ability of a
school to organise and manage itself to maintain or improve
attainment.

– the privileged access to children of staff at 1.7f does not seem
reasonable or fair – nor is it clear what this means for the children
of staff joining or leaving the school at times when the normal
admissions process is not in train. This seems an I’ll-considered
provision to me.

– the addition of a footnote (note 18) which will enable academies and
free schools (but not others) to set quotas of free school meals /
pupil premium children seems to me to be much too important a
consideration to leave to a mere footnote, feels essentially wrong in
its commodification of children as income-generators, and doesn’t
answer important questions about whether the school actually uses the
money to support the children it has used to rake in this cash, what
happens if those pupils are later excluded, or what happens if
parental income status changes. Slapdash policy-making on the hoof
detected here.

– 1.7i still permits faith based selection. Some people won’t blink at
that, but I don’t think there should be any state-funded faith
schools, so that element was never going to appeal to me.

– para 1.21 allows pupil banding that favours high ability students is
allowed to continue in schools that already practice this. Although
it’s pleasing that no schools will be newly allowed to adopt this
practice, this is a missed opportunity to outlaw it (and for that
matter to end partial or whole school selection where that persists)

– the notes about “random allocation” have been much publicised, but
here the devil will lie in the detail, and probably in some hard
leg-work by the Schools Adjudicator in assessing arrangements in
practice. Random allocation hasn’t been outlawed entirely, but it
remains to be seen in what circumstances it may be allowed. greater
clarity here would have been welcome.

– at 1.31 the arrangements for prioritisation of looked after children are massively undermined by allowing schools that select on faith grounds to prioritise children of their own faith above looked after children who are not of their faith. In my experience this lee-way seems to be used only by catholic schools. Why this disgraceful discrimination against some of our most vulnerable children is allowed to continue, I cannot say. Black marks to the Secretary of State and the DfE for allowing this practice to continue. 

– I referenced some positive things about the “excepted” pupils at
para 2.15 but one significant problem here is treating children
admitted after an independent appeal panel upholds an appeal as
“excepted” under this arrangement, because it effectively gives the
appeal panel carte blanche to disregard infant class sizes when making
its decision. This little bullet point may turn out to be the most
explosive and undermining (to standards of teaching and learning)
element in the whole code if left unchallenged.

– para 2.25 is a stark message to those who recognise that sometimes
academies can and will fail. If they close, the ensuing mess very
clearly becomes the local authority’s problem. The now-recognisable
“public sector bail out” if you like. There’s a similar requirement to
leave the tricky stuff of provision for children who have been
excluded twice already at the local authority’s door (p23, para 3.7).
This bugs me, of course, because leaving difficult problems to local
authorities, while simultaneously deriding them as somehow obstructive
to good school achievement, exposes the idealogical rather than
pragmatic approach to school reform. *sigh*

Anyway…in a nutshell, the new Admissions Code – “good in parts,
giving cause for concern in others”. Will I be responding to the
consultation? You bet!

Stand by for more admissions nerdery about the Admissions Appeal Code,
to follow. I bet you can’t wait. 😉

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What’s The Problem With The Big Society? (3)

I suppose I could just say that the problems with David Cameron’s
re-re-relaunched Big Society are just as I outlined them here:

http://itsmotherswork.posterous.com/whats-the-problem-with-the-big-society-0

and here:

http://itsmotherswork.posterous.com/whats-the-problem-with-the-big-society-2

A bad idea doesn’t get any better because a few months has passed. But
in the three months since the last re-relaunch the increasing clarity
about the coalition government’s policies and practices throw the
problems into even sharper relief. So let me just reiterate the main
bad bits in the whole slew of badness:

1) Cameron’s ideas of “devolved power” bypass established arrangements
for ensuring fairness (see what’s happening around Free Schools and
the Admissions Code for examples of this) and put power into the hands
of those who can mobilise publicity and resources in pursuit of their
own issues and agenda. They privilege the already privileged. They
also bypass established arrangements for local democracy (see localism
bill and planning, or academies programme for examples) while
dangerously politicising public services that should remain outside
the political sphere (elected police commissioners, oh dear!).

2) Cameron’s “opening up of public services” will replace important,
valued, skilled public service workers with either their newly
redundant selves on low or no pay in third sector organisations,
un-qualified non-experts where revised rules allow (e.g. Free
schools), or staff (again on lower pay) in organisations devoted to
the profit motive (showing “no mercy” to the NHS). Much money is
available for consultants, “change agents”, and people who can drive a
PowerPoint presentation, but there’s nothing but disparagement,
pay-freezes and “at risk” letters for skilled professionals in jobs
Cameron and his cronies don’t even pretend to understand. Lansley,
Gove, May and others are all in trouble because they have engaged in
sweeping idealogical reforms without a good understanding of the
services they seek to improve. The Big Society rhetoric does not
disguise the shabby amateurism of the cabinet. Leave public services
in the hands of the experts, please. Let’s acknowledge that the real
“vested interests” in all this are those who would make money out of
newly privatised services, by exploiting a newly unprotected
workforce.

3) The ‘encouragement of volunteering’ shows a woeful misunderstanding
of the absolute embeddedness of the funding structures and governance
arrangements of third sector organisations with local government.
These organisations are already delivering many of our public
services, but are doing so currently because they are supported and
funded through local government grants and contracts. This is not a
scandal. This is good, evidence-based commissioning, secured through
good local leadership and held accountable through local democracy. As
this funding disappears, the organisations are not sustainable to
provide comprehensive service delivery, and without supportive local
government infrastructures around them, they can’t hope to adequately
integrate with each other to achieve seamless delivery to clients. I
assume this mistaken view of volunteering arises because Cameron and
his pals don’t do enough of it. Certainly the suggestion that members
of his government should do a day a year just makes me laugh. If
millionaires are too busy making ends meet to have time to volunteer
more than a day a year what does he think the rest of us are doing?
And how will his volunteer army replace the skilled workers he’s so
sanguine about throwing on the scrap-heap.

Mr Cameron – you are fundamentally wrong in your vision for the
so-called Big Society. The biggest clue to your wrongness is the way
that you and your colleagues in the cabinet have ignored some of the
most important mobilisations of community expression for years – the
March 26 March against public service cuts, the #hardesthit protest,
the Save our NHS protests. You and your pals don’t depend on public
services as the rest of us do. We can see that you want to exploit our
goodwill, take away services we value, pay our hard-earned tax
revenues to your friends and – irony of ironies – give yourselves a
pat on the back for any shreds of service that we (the rest of us, who
really are all in this together) manage to fight to retain.

Shame on you!

I may be repeating myself a bit in this blog, but as you
re-re-re-relaunch your shabby idea for the umpteenth time, I’ll be
back again to point out what we all know: your Big Society Emperor has
no clothes….

That Ed Milliband: must try harder.

I’m not at the Progress Conference, so haven’t heard Ed Milliband
deliver his speech, but am working off the version circulated by
LabourList earlier today.
(http://www.labourlist.org/let-me-tell-you-today-how-we-are-going-to-win-the-next-election)
I tweeted, after reading it “Got to say, this doesn’t do it for me”
and the lovely, thoughtful @rosiecosy challenged me with “really? What
would?” so here goes:

First let me say: I didn’t vote Labour at the last election, although
I passionately didn’t want a Tory government. I couldn’t bring myself
to vote for the crew that took us to war in Iraq, promoted the idea of
iD cards and thought Ed Balls was a good idea at the DCSF. I voted
LibDem and have been crying to myself ever since, including here:
http://itsmotherswork.posterous.com/the-spreading-yellow-pool-of-shame
I am someone ready to be wooed back to Labour – if (but only if) I
think they will really deliver what I think this country needs, rather
than some kind of cringing brand of Tory-lite, which is what they did
before.

I agree with Ed that real political visionaries need to “reject some
of the easy answers”, and certainly if the Labour party can show that
they really have had “the courage to change on difficult issues like
Iraq and civil liberties” then they will at least have my ear
(although I’m not clear why these issues are considered that
difficult). But I identify pitfalls early in the speech where Ed
references as failings Labour’s position “from immigration to bankers
to welfare to waste”. He repeats this later as ‘mistakes that lost us
trust’ citing immigration, welfare & banking. I am with him when he is
angry at “those at the top making off with millions they didn’t
deserve”. He’s right that Labour’s over-reliance on, and shameful
indulgence of, the City of London and the worst excesses of the
financial services sector should be robustly corrected. But his
comments on welfare and immigration (until and unless he clarifies
them otherwise) look nastily like scapegoating weak, vulnerable and
already marginalised groups. He blames eastern European immigration
for depressing wages, rather than asking purposeful questions about
setting and policing a living wage; he remarks on people being “angry
about those they felt could work but didn’t” which unfairly demonises
all benefit claimants as work-shy, and utterly fails to address the
scandal that is in-work benefits – which are effectively a way of
getting the tax-payer to facilitate exploitation-level wages while
subsidising shareholder dividends.

He asks “what kind of country will we leave to our sons and our
daughters”? My answer would start – a country which places respect for
all people at its heart, a country which protects the weak, enables
the willing and cuts the over-privileged down to size.

Ed says people want to know “how am I going to make ends meet when my
living standards are squeezed”? Politicians should be asking “why are
ordinary people’s living standards being squeezed when taxpayers’
money is still funding bankers’ bonuses and yet another war…”? He
notes that action on the deficit is transferring public debt into
private debt (as the financial squeeze causes increased personal and
household borrowing), but he does not acknowledge that the ‘public
debt’ was, to a large extent, private debt initially – the private
debt incurred by corporations and the super-rich when their
buccaneering ways stopped paying off. The bank bail-out has been a
conjuring trick in which the rich have transferred their gambling
debts to the poor, and the government has brokered the transaction.

He seeks to appeal to the self-interest of “the middle income
people….who don’t consider themselves rich even though they may be
higher rate tax payers”. I am one of those people. But I know that I
am not “middle income”. I recognise that there’s a huge gap between
the very top 1% of earners in this country and the next centile down,
and that that gap more than swallows up the income differentials
between everyone else (see here:
http://itsmotherswork.posterous.com/the-myth-of-social-mobility) but I
still can’t translate my financial circumstances into a need anywhere
near as pressing or worthy as the issues and interests of those who
are on half my income, or a quarter, or an eighth. When will Labour
stand up for the genuinely poor? For those who want to work but find
obstacles in their way? For those who did work but whose jobs have
disappeared in the interests of “efficiency”? For those who might one
day work if their early years providers, schools, health service,
careers advice etc. are properly funded to support and enable them? My
own children (yes, that’s children Ed, not ‘kids’) will probably still
do ok, despite the squeeze, but the children, young people and
families who need the services of the organisation I work for, for
example, are missing their chance. I don’t want Labour to appeal to my
self-interest, I want them to appeal to my altruism, and to re-awaken
that value in those who have lost it. (George Monbiot writes well on
this here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cif-green/2010/oct/11/left-values-pro….

At the heart of Ed’s speech there’s some vacuous drivel: what on earth
does he mean when he says “asking more of our economy … means asking
less of the state”? How does anyone “hard-wire fairness into the
economy”? Who exactly are “aspirational voters” (other than a PR-man’s
invention) and does he not want the votes of people who don’t define
themselves by ever wanting ‘more, more, more’?

Elements of his policy to appeal to “aspirational voters” are: a
living wage (hell yes! Of-bloody-course!); new industrial policy (erm
– want to tell us what kind of new industrial policy, Ed? That’s a
whole other blog for me one day); a reform of finance (Yes! Yes!
Yes!); and “responsibility at the top and at the bottom” Eh? What does
that look like then? The rhetoric of “fairness and social
responsibility” which sounds so convincing and just, is often
converted into a sensibility which means that *I* must get what *I*
deserve, but that others can be marginalised because they are
‘undeserving’. Ed finds it all too easy to slip into that waistcoat of
Victorian paternalism. “Wealth and opportunity go to those who deserve
them” he says. I imagine him muttering under his breath, “we’ll let
the other buggers sink”.

By the time I read about us “building a better capitalism” I feel
despair. As a nation we will be just the same, it seems, only
everything will change for the better because we will be “true to our
values as a country” – values which Ed is careful not to really name
or define.

I’m not convinced that people want “better chances” – most want better
outcomes. No one has to worry about how they are going to afford “the
rising cost of a university education” if a government is brave enough
to invest in the public good that is higher education so that everyone
who is capable can be funded by the state through their first degree;
no one needs to lose sleep over getting their feet “on the housing
ladder” in a nation which stops treating homes as an investment
vehicle and places greater value on investing public funds in social
housing stock – which becomes acceptable (even sought after) for its
flexibility to support and encourage a mobile workforce.

Ed Milliband’s keynote speech – a fantastic opportunity to talk about
what differentiates the left from the current grisly mob in power, and
what could be offered in terms of a radically better future for the
next generation becomes, a chance to talk about “Blue Labour” – a sad
exercise in showing how little Labour differs from the Tories,
particularly in it’s willingness to roll over – instead of
demonstrating real leadership – on some of the knee-jerk ‘nasty’
issues like immigration and welfare.

Is this really what matters to people? Saving the forests for the
middle-classes and scapegoating immigrants and welfare-claimants for
crowd-pleasing purposes.

Sorry Ed. You’ve a long way to go to convince me.

@itsmotherswork

Does Every Child Matter?

David Cameron has personally intervened in the case of Madeleine McCann who went missing, and is presumed to have been abducted, four years ago in Portugal. Cameron has asked the Metropolitan Police to investigate.

These two Guardian articles set out some of the many problems with this sudden, highly political intervention into a populist issue.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/may/13/madeleine-mccann-case-pm-police

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/may/13/mccanns-david-cameron-met…

Cameron has no business telling the police what to do, and in particular he should think twice before endorsing, sanctioning or requiring a resource-heavy intervention on behalf of one family at a time when his government’s cuts to police and other services are putting many more children at risk.

On the points outlined in the articles linked-to above, I have nothing to say that hasn’t already been said better. But I do think it’s worth remembering that Madeleine McCann was not the only UK Child to go missing in 2007, nor is she the only child who remains unfound.

About those other children…

The missing children website http://uk.missingkids.com/missingkids/servlet/PublicHomeServlet collects and collates information about UK missing children. It may not have information about them all, but it is the best online source of information I can find. The details merit consideration and reflection about how we think of missing children, how we deal with their families, and what we choose to do with our policing priorities and resources.

46 UK children went missing in the same year as Madeleine McCann (2007) and are still missing. (The actual number of missing children in any year is much higher than that, but the vast majority are quickly found.)

Of those 46, 24 were over 16 at the time of their disappearance. It can be difficult to get police and other agencies to take the disappearance of older teenagers seriously – they are often assumed to be deliberate runaways, likely to return safely eventually, and therefore not a priority. However, young people in this age group can be incredibly vulnerable to sexual exploitation and other risks, and we should not assume – even if they do choose to go missing – that they are safe.

A further 17 of these children were aged between 10 and 16 at the time they went missing. Even if over 16s are sometimes invisible to us, those in this age group shouldn’t disappear without leaving ripples of concern behind. These youngsters were of compulsory school age; teachers and leaders of out of school clubs and activities know these children are gone, as well as their parents. For children in this age group who go missing multiple organisations as well as individuals should be pressing for them to be found.

The other five of the still-missing 46 children were under 10 years old.

Of the 46 still-missing children, four of them are white. Are non-white children easier to lose? Are they harder to find? Either way, in a country which was measured in 2001 as having a non-white population of less than 10% (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demography_of_the_United_Kingdom) it should be a matter for concern, if not shame, that the ‘still-missing’ figures reverse those percentages.

Looking back 10 years to 2001, there are two children registered as “still missing” from that year. One is the young black boy whose dismembered torso was found in the Thames. Strictly speaking he is not “missing”, but the tragedy of his young, short life is that we have not yet found anyone who misses him. The other child from that year is a welsh boy, who would have been in his mid-teens when he went missing.

There are 26 children recorded as being “still missing” from 2009. Of these, three were under 10 when they went missing; 14 were between 10 and 16 and nine were over 16 when they disappeared. Of these 26, one is white.

I completely understand why the McCann’s have campaigned as they have in the hopes of finding their daughter. If you are thinking of the McCann family today; if you are pleased that David Cameron intervened and think that it is right that limited police resources are devoted to the finding of one missing child, I would urge you to look at the missing kids website, at the pictures of the still-missing children and to imagine how their parents are feeling.

Can it really be right that only those families who have the capacity and resources to mobilise this level of public attention get a Prime Ministerial intervention?

Once again Cameron displays that he is a prime minister acting only in the interests of “people like him”. I think he should acknowledge – by name – all of the other still-missing children that he is not asking the police to follow up, and explain why he doesn’t think they are worth his attention. 

Does every child matter? Or do some matter more than others?

The Spreading Yellow Pool of Shame

Ooops! There I was, distracted by something shiny. I got a little bit over-excited. And now here I am standing in a spreading yellow pool of shame. 

Yes. I voted LibDem at the last general election.

I’m a ‘floating’ voter, so it wasn’t the first time I’d put a cross in that box, but it was the first time I’d thought my vote might really count. Hence the over-excitement. And now the regret as I discover the unexpected warm feeling only leads to something cold and damp later. And a bad smell.

It didn’t take long for the cold and damp to seep in. First was the obvious disappointment that ‘Cleggmania’ hadn’t translated into nearly such a substantial number of votes, let alone seats, as opinion polls seemed to suggest it would.

Then it became increasingly clear that there would be no ‘progressive left’ alliance. I had imagined the civil liberties credentials of the LibDems holding Labour’s surveillance state in check. Together (surely?) they would implement a gradual regime of deficit reduction, supported by a Keynesian stimulus package, coupled with a continuing and sensible programme of welfare support for society’s more vulnerable individuals and families. But no LibLab pact.

An alliance in the other direction was unthinkable though. It seemed to me that the LibDems’ commitment to equality, diversity and human rights meant that they couldn’t get into a coalition with the Tories, could they?

Just in case, and because the party was inviting comments on what it should do, I wrote to Nick Clegg to tell him: force Cameron to run a minority government; operate a principled opposition – vote with the Government on any good ideas but stand firm against hard-line Tory nonsense. I didn’t really think the letter was necessary, because surely the notion of an actual coalition with Cameron and his ilk would be anathema to them. Apparently not.

A few days after the election – on my birthday,  no less – I was gifted a new government.

Worst. Present. Ever.

Of course some of you will point out that instead of reading and believing the party manifestos, watching (and cheering) the TV debates, and getting a little giddy on the hype about ‘the new politics’, I should have had a look at ‘The Orange Book’ and found out for myself that the LibDems weren’t quite the type of party I thought they were. Perhaps I should have looked at the background, schooling and pre-politics careers of the LibDem front bench and noticed that the pedigree was more or less the same as their true blue counterparts. And then recoiled. Too late.

I have watched – first with glumness, then with fury, and more recently with an increasing sense of despair – as the party that promised no more broken promises has broken pledge after pledge, while pretending that working in coalition makes that a reasonable thing to do. The party that promised no more broken promises has even criticised the electorate for seeming to consider promise-keeping a desirable trait in politicians. How very naive of us!

The stupidity, incompetence and vicious destructiveness of the Tory frontbench would be tolerable, even amusing, if a strong coalition partner was holding it in check; standing up for the principles it said it believed in and taking a clear stand: “this far and no further”. Instead we have a coalition partner either too craven to stand up for its own principles or too deceitful to acknowledge that it is just a different flavour of Toryism. With Labour confused or moribund (who can say?) the disgraceful sacking and burning of our most important public institutions, the spiteful villification of the most vulnerable members of society, and the pitiless attack on services and support to women and children in particular goes ahead unchecked.

Standing in my yellow pool, I am ashamed of the blind enthusiam with which I cast my vote last year, although the party that benefited from it shows no shame at having won my vote under false pretences.  

The LibDems have taken a spanking in this week’s polls. They deserved it. This blog from LibDem voice captures the flavour of the rout.    

http://www.libdemvoice.org/black-friday-for-lib-dems-its-worse-than-we-thought-24053.html

The results are ‘a disaster’ for the party. The miserable little compromise that is AV so effectively divided those who are in favour of electoral reform (but perhaps not of this type) that pushing for the referendum as the price of coalition has ensured this progressive proposition gets “a trouncing beyond even the more pessimistic pollsters’ imaginations”. But note the penultimate paragraph: “party members still overwhelmingly back the coalition”. 

Oh. 

That tells me all I need to know. I was looking for a party with a genuine commitment to social justice, to equality, to diversity; a party that understood society to be more than just the economy; a party that valued people over businesses and put children and vulnerable adults first, rather than just screwing them first because it’s so easy to do.

I loved this pencilandpapertest blog today from @TeacherTalks 

http://pencilandpapertest.wordpress.com/2011/05/06/looking-to-the-horizon-is-no-good-if-your-feet-are-on-fire/

Does the party really belive their strategies and policies are right? Are they really governing as they intended? Can they see who they are hurting and how, and do they really think that’s all right? Have they got nothing wrong? Is there nothing they should reconsider or re-evaluate? 

I was perhaps once ‘of a yellow persuasion’. But now I don’t think any fresh promise could persuade me.

At least my feet are not on fire. But that’s because I am standing in a nasty yellow pool of my own making. The shame is huge. I can’t blush deeply enough.