What are the rules about governors of academies setting admissions policies?(17 Posts)
Our local secondary school has recently become an academy and the governors are consulting on changing the admissions policy. Until now the policy has followed that of the local authority. Children in care or with SEN statements naming the school are a tiny minority in practice, so the key priorities until now have been:
2. children for whom the school is their nearest state secondary school; and
Between those falling within the same priority category, priority is determined by straight line distance from home to school. In practice, in the last few years anyone who falls into 1 and 2 has got a place and there have usually been approx 25 places available for those in priority 3.
The governors say they want the school to be first and foremost a school for the particular suburb in which it is situated. (The school is in a city.) However, there is no official definition of where the boundaries of this suburb start and end, so as a proxy for whether children live within the suburb they are planning to use a particular postcode area. Sibling priority will continue regardless of address, but after that the next priority category will be children living in the particular postcode area (let's call it X10). If introduced this will have the effect that Child A living in X10, for whom the school is not his nearest school, will take priority over Child B even though the school is B's nearest school and B lives closer to the school than A. (And this is not just an academic issue. Because of the postcode boundaries there are likely to be children for whom the school is their nearest - within a mile- who lose out in favour of children living significantly further away and who have a different nearest school.)
The governors have offered no explanation for the policy beyond a desire for the school to be predominantly a school for the named suburb. However, using postcode area as a proxy for what is and isn't within the suburb produces bizarre results, including giving priority to some children who no one would consider to be living within the suburb in question.
Can anyone explain to me what rules/factors governors of academies are required to take into consideration when setting admissions policies. And when consulting on a proposed change in policy, to what extent are governors obliged to give reasons for the proposed change? Thanks in advance!
As far as I know for both acadamies and free schools they do not have to follow the LEA guidelines for admissions (and many other areas too).
Free schools can set more open admission guidelines than academies as free schools can, I think include selection (either acadmic, religious or special needs) into their policies whereas acadamies can not.
An academy is not under an obligation to set, continue or maintain previous boundary / catchment area requirements, or follow national pay scales or many other state based requirements previously monitored by the LEA.
If parents and prospective parents do not endorse changes that an academy makes they do not have recourse to LEA as the schools are directed only by the Department for Education, who themselves having agreed the change to an academy are unlikely to intervene.
Thanks Rosemary. So beyond a ban on selecting by reference to religion or academic credentials, do you know whether academies are completely free to set whatever criteria they like? And are there any guidelines as to what result the admissions criteria should seek to achieve, or is it just "Make it up as you go along"?
LEA's have a common school admissions code which they are required to stick too, an academy agrees to stick to this code too, subject to being allowed to divert from the code provided they do not divert from the essence of the code.
The code itself outlines but does not provide or enforce that for all state schools admissions are identical.
The code can be found at the Dpt for Ed website (sorry I can't link it).
In practice though this means that an academy can make the kind of change you have outlined, changes that could not be made would be things like changing the ages of the children, you can't switch a secondary into an all-through school for example.
I would think the governers would have reviewed both the common admissions policy, and the policy prior to academy status, they will know that there are limits to the changes they can make so can not make it up as they go along (more likely with a free school).
To clarify this, academies are bound by the Admissions Code which is set by the government and can be found on the DfE website here. That limits their freedom to set admission criteria. They cannot, for example, give priority based on the parents jobs.
The school is effectively using the postcode zone as its catchment area. Catchment areas must be reasonable and clearly defined. My view is that the proposed area is clearly defined but I cannot comment on whether or not it is reasonable.
You should make your objections known. If you are still unhappy once the school has made its final decision you can make an objection to the Schools Adjudicator. However, that will only be upheld if the Adjudicator concludes that the proposed catchment area is not reasonable. The fact that it prioritises some children who live further from the school over others who live nearer is not unreasonable - that is a feature of all catchment areas.
If all of the other schools in the area use distance from school, you might be able to mount an argument that it would be unreasonable for this school to change. As this could mean that some children living outside the postcode, but not near enough to another school to ever be in the 2nd criteria bracket. This might be seen as being unfairly treated.
As an academy the school can change its policy but this would not in effect be till September 2014.
I agree with PRH that using a set postcode is the equivalent of setting a catchment zone and this is clearly allowed within the admission code. The bit that I would have some concern about is whether by choosing this particular postcode they are discriminating against a section of the local population. So for instance does this particular postcode include up-market areas but exclude the local council estate. If it did then the school is breaking the admission code and the admission criteria needs to be changed.
The fact that the school seem unable to substantiate why this particular post code does make me nervous that there is a level of "selection" going on.
The other point that I would make is that if they were really intent on keeping the school for local pupils, then they would amend their admission criteria to read siblings within the designated area, then pupils within the designated area and then siblings outside the designated area, followed by those outside the designated area. If the numbers are as you describe that will not greatly affect siblings living outside the area (unless there are lots of them) as they will have priority after those in this designated catchment area.
I like the idea of 'trying' to create local community schools. I would wonder how else you could do this that would be legal? If they tried to define what their local community was it would probably look like they are trying discriminate against certain areas. What else can they use apart from the postcode? Surely a catchment area keeps friends/communities together instead of sending kids all over the town/city. And of course it would stop the houses right beside the school going up in price, rather all houses in the community.
Even when you have a catchment area there is no guarantee that all children within catchment will be admitted. Distance from the school is usually still the tie breaker so there is still a premium on houses close to the school. The only way to avoid that is to use random allocation as the tie breaker, so if there were more children in catchment than the school could admit there would be a draw or similar to determine which children were actually admitted. However, random allocation is not popular with parents as it makes it harder to work out how likely you are to get a place at a particular school.
but it does ensure children within a community stay together first.
We had catchment areas, and all kids used to go to their local school, but this was abolished in favour of 'choice' (and hasn't that worked well
I'm really surprised you are supportive of community schools Chloe given that on another thread you are arguing that it is perfectly acceptable for people lie and cheat about where they live, in other words to disrupt the idea that schools should serve their community.
Thank you for your replies. I have been poring over the postcode area map and the local authority admission publication showing which areas are nearest which schools etc, and I am struggling to reconcile the stated reason for the proposed change with how it will work in practice. It appears to me that any child genuinely living within the named suburb will already be in a high priority category, as the school will be their nearest school. (In recent times anyone for whom the school is the nearest school has always got a place.) Where the change in policy will be felt will be among those who live outside the suburb. The high priority postcode area is basically a long thin shape running North/South so the policy will give a higher priority to certain addresses directly north of the school. This will be at the expense of those who live much nearer to the school but just west of the postcode boundary. I think this is a case where the governors would have done better to apply the maxim, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" or if they believe the current system is "broke" at least explain why!
Is it possible for you to overlay the new postcode zone, onto a map that shows the zones for the surrounding schools.
Am just thinking for your description that it is similar to Winchester schools here where individually it looks odd but when all the school catchment areas are shown together you can see the thinking - for good or bad - behind each.
It would also give you some leverage to be able to say that some houses would no longer be in any catchment area for example.
Also you may find census data maybe useful, 2011 data is now online and could be a guide to growth numbers, as with birth data.
Local planning office will also have details of current and proposed developments for extra housing.
All these bits and bobs could be used to help you build a picture, I'm thinking your home is sited outside the proposed area ? In which case you'd be looking for data to usurp the governers views, best of luck, let us know how you get on.
Also TES website may well be useful, lots of comments and views on there.
You might find the link below helpful to you this is a fairly recent adjudication for an academy that was looking to change its catchment/feeder schools which has some parallels to the proposal at your school. The objection was upheld and the admissions policy was changed.
There might be some aspects from this that you could use in your response to the consultation that would be helpful.
creamteas - I am all for a school creating a catchment area for a community. I also see nothing wrong with parents doing everything they can to get their child the education they deserve. What I don't agree with is that it is a neighbors job to 'grass up' neighbors, which is what destroys communities.
I'm afraid everyone else can see the inconsistency in your position even if you can't. You want a school to serve a community but think it is ok for parents who are not part of the community to move in temporarily in order to get a place, thereby depriving someone who is genuinely part of the community of a place that is rightfully theirs. That is what destroys communities, not people trying to stop this happening by informing the LA.
No prh47 that is not what I saying, what I object to is neighbor spying on neighbor. To me its the same as temporarily moving house to get a certain drug on the NHS in a different region. Who would object to that, even though somewhere in the county that is depriving another person of something else.
PS this is not the right thread for this I was only responding to a direct comment by creamteas
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