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Have you checked your local school's admissions criteria against the admissions code?

(20 Posts)
geneticLottery Tue 26-Jan-16 22:53:19

So the Education Secretary wants to stop Fair Admissions Campaigners from reporting suspected breaches of the Admissions Code to the adjudicator, even though 41 of the 42 cases they brought last year were fully or partially upheld:

www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/faith-school-complaints-ban-is-affront-to-democracy-campaigners-say-a6833531.html

That means it'll be down to "local parents" to check whether schools are compliant or not, and to raise issues with the admissions adjudicator. The National Admissions Code is a pretty complex document - how many parents that you know have actually read it, let alone checked whether the schools they're applying to are following it?

The code is very complicated for schools to understand too, and apparently many don't bother reading it properly, so hundreds of (mostly unintentional) breaches are found every year, and the Schools Adjudicator's Annual Report implies that could just be the tip of the iceberg with 12% of Local Authorities reporting themselves as not confident that all schools in their area are code compliant.

To be fair I suspect some of the systematic breaches the Fair Admissions Campaign found in Faith School admissions could have been found in a similarly sized sample of non-Faith-school admissions too, but certainly not all of them as faith school admissions do tend to be relatively complex. This relates to one of the main findings of the adjudicator's report: "The admission arrangements for many schools that are their own admission authority are unnecessarily complex and lack transparency, especially those with numerous subcategories within individual oversubscription criteria. Such arrangements are difficult to understand and limit parents’ ability to assess the chance of their child being offered a place."

ChablisTyrant Tue 26-Jan-16 22:59:04

I doubt you'd find more than a dozen non-faith primaries breaking the rules. They simply don't have complicated criteria and for the most part follow a standard LA-wide approach.

I agree it is unrealistic to expect parents to police admissions.

MrsKCastle Tue 26-Jan-16 23:25:31

I think you might be surprised ChablisTyrant. The year that I applied for DD1, I had a thread going on here about a very weird set of criteria in my town. Basically some of the schools gave preference to pupils living in the other catchment areas. But because it didn't apply universally, it had the potential to be very unfair.

I got a lot of advice from the MN experts and contacted both the LA and the schools adjudicator- the schools adjudicator couldn't help because I hadn't contacted them in time- you have to do so when the criteria are first published, not in Sep/Oct when most parents start to investigate schools.

I was lucky- DD1 got a place despite the strange arrangements and the criteria were changed for the following year. But we could easily have missed out on our 1st choice school (our closest one).

catslife Wed 27-Jan-16 08:53:49

Potentially any school that is not a community school and acts as it's own admissions authority could break the admissions code. This includes faith school but also most academies and free schools.
In our area primary admissions were OK but we found one academy school that was specifically asking on a supplementary form where you had placed the school i.e. 1st, 2nd or 3rd preference on the LEA form so that they could effectively operate a first preference first system. This is against the admissions code so we complained.

admission Wed 27-Jan-16 11:42:46

There are quite a few that I know that are their own admission authority who have admission criteria that are "skating on thin ice" when it comes to whether they are totally legal. They get away with it because the only sure way of challenging it is to go to the Schools Adjudicator which many are not prepared to do,
To be fair to some of these schools, there is frequently no desire to break the law, just a lack of clarity in the published admission criteria leading to potential for confusion

tiggytape Wed 27-Jan-16 18:30:13

I'd agree that the main problem isn't so much schools willfully breaking the law to operate a selection system (although a few have been caught doing just that) but more the ridiculously complicated arrangements some schools have.

Some schools are so oversubscribed that they add layer upon layer of priority categories and tie breakers all of which may be legal but, added together, makes it very hard for parents to tell at a glance whether they're likely to get in and also whether the final allocations have been handled fairly.

If someone living further away got a place, most families want to know it is due to a sibling rule or down to attending a named feeder school. When you start adding baptism dates, little known parish boundary lines and aptitude testing in to the mix, it can feel less transparent even if in practice it is all done strictly by the book

tethersend Wed 27-Jan-16 19:07:24

I have checked, and my LA (Tower Hamlets) is breaching the code with its waiting lists policy. I have raised it with the head of admissions who does not agree that the policy breaches the code, so I will take it further.

geneticLottery Fri 29-Jan-16 21:38:16

Tethersend good luck with your referral. I referred a school last year and once I'd submitted the document it was a very smooth process. The school was grateful for the clarification because it didn't really know how to interpret the code. A Local Authority might be a bit more bolshy though. You can ask for anonymity from the other parties in the case, so long as you're not anonymous to the adjudicator herself.

You'll need to follow the referral timetable. Clause 15 of the Admissions Code says that schools' 2017 admissions arrangements have to be formally determined (even if they haven't changed) by Feb 28th, and published online. Once they're determined you have until 15th May to refer them to the adjudicator.

There have been some cases of schools that haven't published their documents online in time for people to meet the deadline, but that would be cause for complaint in itself so you could still refer them, and of course if they haven't consulted on a change you can assume they haven't changed from the previous year.

LilyBolero Sun 31-Jan-16 10:04:35

The Fair Admissions Campaign is its own worst enemy - they lodged complaints against pretty well every faith school on the final day for complaints, which caused chaos for the adjudicators, and massive stress for schools and parents.

The so called breaches they talk about are often very minor wordings - e.g. 'there are 25 places for local applicants' - when it should be 'there are up to 25 places....' , if only 20 apply. But they published that as being 'in breach of the code'.

carltonscroop Sun 31-Jan-16 10:24:29

A number of complaints have been about clarity of language (something which applies just as much to every Admissions Authority) and then is being spun into a campaigning issue.

But yes, they are correct in that every authority should meet the highest possible standards. (Only about 40 schools of the over 25,000 had issues anyhow, though somehow this has become 90% of those we surveyed had suboptimal language of the type that has been found to be a technical breach).

The breaches are not about who is being given priority.

Those are policed very effectively by parents via the appeals system. Read the MN threads on what constitutes the valid grounds for a winning appeal even under ICS rules.

meditrina Sun 31-Jan-16 10:26:13

The experts to look for on this are prh47bridge, admission and tiggytape.

geneticLottery Sun 31-Jan-16 11:05:16

Yes LilyBolero and carltonscroop, I agree diplomacy isn't one of the FAC's strong points. The Accord Coalition are more politically astute on that front, although less "noisy" as a result.

The adjudicator's annual report recommends some template admissions policies be created. Seems like a sensible way forward as lots of the terms are pretty standard, e.g. so there's no excuse for not defining LAC correctly.

IODmum Mon 16-Oct-17 00:11:57

Hi Tethersend ,

I'm in Tower Hamlets too. Just wondered how it went with the LA?
I'm aware that a free school in E14 has broken it's admissions policy by admitting a child because they wanted rather than following their own admissions policy. Do you know if the LA would be able to stop things like this in the future?

prh47bridge Mon 16-Oct-17 17:51:41

If a school admits a pupil contrary to its own admissions policy that can lead to a successful appeal from whoever was first on the waiting list at the time. As this is a free school the LA can't do anything but the EFA can. Ultimately the EFA can take away the school's funding if they persistently break the rules.

IODmum Mon 16-Oct-17 19:59:31

Thanks for the info. I’m not sure who the next child on the list was and missed out on a place as a result. The EFA do seem hard to get through to and talk to someone but I will try.

IODmum Mon 16-Oct-17 20:03:54

If a free school use the LA’s central admissions, it makes you wonder why places mis-appropriated is not picked up on. Do free schools, such as those with religious criteria, tell the LA who meets their criteria and then the LA offer out the place? I wonder, if the LA knew there were places not offered correctly, if they could tell the free school they won’t let them apply through the central admissions anymore.

prh47bridge Mon 16-Oct-17 20:43:47

It is unlikely that the EFA would do much over a single case but if a pattern builds up they might step in.

Any school that has been running for more than a year uses the LA's co-ordinated admissions. The school puts the applicants in order according to their admission criteria and return the list to the LA who do the rest. The LA will notice if the list is blatantly wrong but they won't pick up every error.

The LA is required to operate a co-ordinated admission system for all schools in its area. It cannot refuse to include a school.

To be honest, rumours that a school has broken its own admissions policy are far more common than schools actually doing so. Usually investigation shows that the child who has, allegedly, jumped the queue was in fact offered the place correctly. But yes, some schools do cheat, although that is normally with in-year applications rather than normal admissions.

IODmum Sat 18-Nov-17 15:39:43

Thanks for the info, prh47bridge.
I am certain this school broke the admissions policy with regard to the child I have in mind. The child's parent is a member of staff and they live over 7 miles away and, yet, they were 'guaranteed' a place if they chose to apply. There is nothing to allow this for general staff in the admissions policy agreed by the DfE when the school opened. There are exceptions for those who helped open the school, but that is different. There is lots wrong with this particular school - it's Canary Wharf College in E14 and it seems the problems are becoming more and more apparent to those in the community. For e.g. there quite few other schools in the immediate locality that all have a high % of kids with free school meals, yet this school has barely any which suggests selective admissions is likely to be taking place. It's sad as the ideology behind free schools was that it should give the local community more ownership. Instead, this school is divisive.

notjustbaconbutties Sat 18-Nov-17 16:37:43

IODmum, the "children with exceptional need" criterion looks dodgy to me. Perhaps that is what they used to admit the child in question.

The Admissions Code allows for Social or Medical need as follows:

"1.16 If admission authorities decide to use social and medical need as an oversubscription criterion, they must set out in their arrangements how they will define this need and give clear details about what supporting evidence will be required (e.g. a letter from a doctor or social worker"

... but I don't think schools are allowed to have a non-specific "exceptional need" criterion.

If they want to add a children of staff criterion then that is allowed under the code, but they would have to consult before adding it to their 2019 policy. It's too late for 2018.

Also, I'd say they need to make it a bit clearer that any children who meet the faith criteria but don't get allocated places as part of the first 50% will then be re-considered under the community criteria. As it stands it sounds like children just meet either the faith criteria or the community criteria. In reality the faith applicants also meet the community criteria.

prh47bridge Sat 18-Nov-17 17:52:19

Their admission arrangements state, "Priority may be given to children with an agreed exceptional medical or social need that can be best met by attendance at this school. This can include the parents', carers' or other family members' medical conditions and the family's social needs. These applications must be supported by at least one report from a relevant professional, eg a doctor or a social worker, and must make clear why these needs can best be met at this school." That appears to meet the requirements of the Admissions Code.

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