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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