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Information that must be in LA admissions brochure? Cut off distances?

(38 Posts)
infeasibly Mon 21-Aug-17 22:17:11

The National Admissions Code says that "The local authority will collate and publish all the admission arrangements in the area in a single composite prospectus". For the contents of the prospectus a note refers to regulations 5, 6 and Schedule 2 of the School Information (England) Regulations 2008 which gives a list of the information that must be in the prospectus.

As far as I can tell, that list doesn't include a statutory duty for them to publish the previous year's National Offer Day cut-off distances for the schools that use distance criteria. I know some Local Authorities do publish this in the prospectus, but I'm wondering if there's any explicit or implicit duty on them all to publish it in order to help families understand their chances of getting a place? If so, where is that duty defined? (I've got a feeling I've read it somewhere but can't put my finger on it now).

meditrina Mon 21-Aug-17 22:56:48

It won't always be published in the booklet, but is usually available - whether published on the council website or on request from the admissions authority (LEA, or school itself depending on the school's status).

It's nit published as part of the prospectuses, as it can be misleading. For example, it can be misunderstood as a distance within which you will get a place,, or people could confuse it with the formal catchment area. Also, unlike catchments (which can change only after consultation and which must be published as part of the admissions information) they can vary wildly year on year (eg if you're applying two years after a bulge class, or just as new housing comes into use)

Yes, they can be very useful as an indication of the admissions pattern (on offers day) but no, I don't think it should be published as part of the prospectus. Published elsewhere gives a much better chance that the caveats will be read and understood, because they can be highlighted as individual issues, not lost in a whole prospectus.

tiggytape Mon 21-Aug-17 23:12:18

No - I don't think it is a statutory duty either (if it is I have never seen it listed as such and a lot of councils don't comply if it is).

That said, virtually any school will tell you their last distance offered in each category last year and most councils also publish the information on school and other websites.

I understand your feeling that it should be immediately available in the admissions booklet but I agree with meditrina that it is also important for parents to understand that there are no guarantees.
Just becasue a school took children from 1.6miles away last year doesn't mean they will this year. This year there might be 5 sets of twins applying all with older siblings in the school and the distance might only go out 0.75miles.

It gives a false sense of security to some and may put other people off applying when, for all they know, this is the year of the bulge class and taking everyone who applied.

Both of those things are problematic. You don't want someone living 1.2 miles away to only list one school. And you don't want someone living 1.7 miles away to be put off from applying altogether. Putting the distances in the official prospectus gives them an almost guaranteed status - which they definitely don't have. Publishing them for information purposes elsewhere makes it clearer it is only a very rough guideline and may be wildly inaccurate for this year's group.

infeasibly Tue 22-Aug-17 09:20:18

Thanks both. Yes, there needs to be clear caveats on the data. However parents often find it a useful (in fact the only) indicator of their chances of getting a place at particular schools, and so the information needs to be available to them (along with numbers of places allocated on faith grounds etc in previous years). If nothing else, it enables trends to be analysed.

Of course as soon as you publish that sort of information to some parents (the ones who are savvy enough to ask) a moral duty surely arises for all parents to be given the same information, and for its relative usefulness to be explained. I assume that's why so many LAs do routinely publish it, even when it's not statutory.

The problem is that certain commercial providers are mining the data, repackaging it and reselling it, without all the necessary the caveats. For example it is being used by property portals, who are using it in a way that confuses the housing market. This sort of use is only going to increase and I think LAs need to be more aware of how their data is being used.

I would like to see all LAs publishing the cut-off distance data in a standard format, with a standard caveat, so that parents know exactly where commercially packaged information is sourced from and what it means. Presumably that standardisation will only happen if it becomes statutory. (And I would argue for the September 1st cut-off data to be published alongside the National Offer Day cut-off data, so that parents can make sense of waiting list movement in their areas).

Is there an LGA forum, or equivalent, that centralises discussion on this sort of issue? (My own interest in it is as a parent, a school governor and a home owner).

eddiemairswife Tue 22-Aug-17 09:25:06

My LA puts them in the prospectus, but also states that they can vary from year to year.
However, from my experience of admission appeals, few people actually read the prospectus.

meditrina Tue 22-Aug-17 09:25:57

Yes, some commercial pages are utterly woeful (see threads passim)

And yes, I think data needs to be readily available. And it is - published by many (most, all?) LEAs (can anyone think of one which doesn't?)

I do not think it should be part of the prospectus though. Not least because I doubt LEAs can afford a further data collection round (for situation as of 1 September) and I question the utility of delaying the applications round to allow for it (because printed and accessible versions all need to be produced for when the applications window opens).

tiggytape Tue 22-Aug-17 09:35:43

I totally accept all your points and it is helpful for parents to have an idea when they apply

However on things like final distance offered and waiting list movement, a "standard" caveat just wouldn't cover it for many schools - it is all just far too unpredictable.

For example, I have come across appeals where the person is the first person in the village ever not to get their child in to the village school. Everyone in the area knew that all village children got a place every year - until the year that they didn't. Too many siblings, too many people living closer.

And I have come across "Zero Distance Allocations" which are years when zero children got a distance place. Every single one of the 60 or 90 places on offer went to siblings (usually because of bulge classes in Year 1, 3 and above). So at those schools the message is "sometimes we have bulge classes and all local people get in and sometimes we don't and not a single local person gets in"

And I have come across sudden halving of the distance offered. So in 2009 it was 1.65km, in 2010 it was 1.71km, in 2011 it was 1.96km and in 2012 it was 0.7km. This is due to either large birth rate years or the sudden loss in popularity of competing local schools (eg after a bad Ofsted)

It is all so unpredictable that it would be hard to caveat it enough to stop the information leading to people missing out.
It could be offered to parents in a very broad way eg "in the past 5 years the furthest distance offered has varied between 0.7km and 1.96km" but it still doesn't tell them any idea of their chances as they don't' know how many siblings and children adopted from care want the places. And it still risks some feeling so certain they fail to apply for enough other schools and others feeling too uncertain to risk it (because they believe incorrectly that they can't put down 'wasted' choices)

infeasibly Tue 22-Aug-17 09:38:32

Yes, agree it doesn't matter whether it's in the brochure or not. But it does need to be published.

If everyone starts asking their LAs for Sept 1st cut off data they will eventually start to publish it routinely. It would just be better if they would take the initiative to get there more quickly.

mummytime Tue 22-Aug-17 09:47:01

My DC's secondary used to always have a range of maps available to show where pupils had been admitted over the years. It was very useful and showed clearly just how much variation there was. (And Rightmove has huge errors for this school, not sure about other websites.)

tiggytape Tue 22-Aug-17 10:02:14

I definitely agree it should be published and most LAs do (although it can be a bit buried in their websites). Many schools also have the information on their admissions pages on their websites.

I just wasn't convinced the prospectus was the best place as it gives the impression that if you live X distance from a school you will get in / won't get in and that would adversely affect people's chances of a place too (if they only list one school or don't list one they like).

Putting it in the prospectus gives it the same status as all the legal stuff and fixed timings of admissions (things that are set in stone) wheres, historical distance information is only a very very rough guide that can vary wildly from current circumstances and needs to be used with a great deal of caution.

If people flick through the very official booklet or pdf and see 1.61km next to a school name, no amount of caveats are going to convince some people that this isn't the magic number that guarantees / deprives them of a place. I would imagine a lot of appeals with the magic number marked in red and with people complaining that they were told they lived close enough in the official admissions booklet.

infeasibly Tue 22-Aug-17 10:07:58

Happy to agree that point tiggytape.

Any thoughts on how to communicate the issue to LAs on mass (my own LA are likely to brush it under the carpet without external pressure that is bigger than a single parent/governor, no matter how logically argued).

infeasibly Tue 22-Aug-17 10:18:51

Interestingly, section 1.51 of the code says that info published in the prospectus must be kept up to date throughout the application period. Perhaps that could be used as a handle to persuade LA's they need to publish waiting list cut-off distances (if they have National Offer Day cut offs in their prospectus).

mrz Tue 22-Aug-17 10:20:53

The problem is the data they have will apply to previous years as tight says.

infeasibly Tue 22-Aug-17 10:32:48

Good point mrz. I was confusing the cut off distances in the prospectus (from previous year) with the ones that our LA send out with offer letters (got the current year).

meditrina Tue 22-Aug-17 15:31:10

"If everyone starts asking their LAs for Sept 1st cut off data they will eventually start to publish it"

That assumes they are collecting it, which they won't be. You'd get an answer of 'disproportionate cost' and referred to the data already published. I don't think data is collected at the end of the time LEAs have to hold waiting lists before they are handed on to each admission authority either.

Of course, you say you are a school governor, so you could publish this info for your school (based on council data for offers day and info you hold on new starters). Just make sure that you don't publish new information whilst the applications window is open, because people should not be advantaged/disadvantaged by there being different information at different times. It must be indate and complete throughout.

haba Tue 22-Aug-17 15:39:28

Aren't many schools their own admissions authority? LAs would have to contact all these and collate/publish that data... they don't have the staff or the time, everyone has been pared back to beyond minimum IME.
And, in many cases it's meaningless- I know schools where 100% of the intake has gone to siblings, and there are even siblings that cannot get places! The cut-off circles change vastly year on year, hence the Rightmove data being garbage for many schools, completely meaningless.

meditrina Tue 22-Aug-17 15:51:19

LEAs run the main admissions rounds, and hold waiting lists until the December.

Schools that are their own admissions authority rank all applicants against their entrance criteria, but it's the LEA who turn the ranked lists into single offer per applicant and run the waiting lists during the initial shake-down.

infeasibly Tue 22-Aug-17 15:51:35

Meditrina, yes my school publishes it, and presumably so do some others but it's quite rare. Yet the distances change by km in some cases local to me.

Haba, my school is an academy but the distances are all calculated by the council. I assume that's the case for most academies since councils still coordinate admissions and have the systems in place to do the calculations.

There will always be cases where the information is "irrelevant" but in the majority of cases it will be relevant, and the dataset as a whole useful for trend analysis.

infeasibly Tue 22-Aug-17 15:55:34

Yet the distances change by km in some cases local to me.

Between National Offer Day and September that is. We have a lot of waiting list movement.

tiggytape Tue 22-Aug-17 17:36:12

Wow that's a lot of churn on the waiting lists infeasibly (either that or it covers some rural areas where people below each other on the list live many metres apart already)

We're in London so sometimes our schools have to describe last distance offered down to fractions of a metre. It can literally be a few cm or a single flat number in difference between the last person to get in and the first person on the waiting list.
Waiting lists move massively in terms of numbers because the population is more transient but the distance figure doesn't change hugely (certainly not whole kms) between March and Sept simply because the population is incredibly dense and there can be hundreds (literally) of children living on one road alone.

infeasibly Tue 22-Aug-17 18:03:26

Tiggy I'm in London too. I think it happens because some schools go from being massively oversubscribed on National Offer Day (but not on first prefs) to undersubscribed (or close to it) in September - even some outstanding schools. But very few people realise how far the distances move so they drop off the waiting lists to go private or don't bother applying in the first place. I assume that if people then phone the council and say they're moving into the area they're told to apply from their current address (sometimes km away) and they get a place.

I only know this because I've asked for the Sep1st distances for all the local schools.

haba Tue 22-Aug-17 19:47:33

some schools go from being massively oversubscribed on National Offer Day
??? How can they offer more places than they have? Isn't that the point of it all being coordinated by the LA, to avoid that? What if everyone offered a place accepted? AFAIAA only as many places as exist are offered. Churn happens afterwards (because we have independent and SS Grammar schools that people move around on waiting lists for.

infeasibly Tue 22-Aug-17 20:05:02

How can they offer more places than they have?

They don't - you misunderstood. By "oversubscribed" I meant there were many more applications (not offers) than places.

haba Tue 22-Aug-17 20:19:56

Ah, more applications than places, but lots don't take up the offer? I see.

infeasibly Tue 22-Aug-17 20:53:06

but lots don't take up the offer?

In many cases they will take up a higher preference state offer if they get one. In other cases they will go private - many private schools have early deadlines for paying the first term's fees, so even if people do stay on the waiting lists for a higher preference state school, by the time they get an acceptable offer they may have already committed, financially and psychologically, to another school.

Local Authorities naturally want people to drop off the waiting lists quickly because it helps them with the difficult task of meeting as much demand as possible, with as little spare capacity as possible. They obviously won't want to highlight where cut-off distances significantly increase because it would encourage people to hang around for longer and may ultimately mean they would have to provide more places if fewer people go private because of it.

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