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Catchment/priority admissions areas and feeder schools- legality and justification

(26 Posts)
BurnTheBlackSuit Fri 03-Mar-17 10:24:27

Please can someone explain what the legal position and the justification is for some schools to specify catchment areas or priority admission areas, and/or to specify "feeder schools" in their admissions criteria.

I am especially confused as to why this is legal or justified when the catchment isn't in a neat circle around the school, so skewed over to the west for example, or with a cut away bit in it to avoid a certain housing development, or skewed so as to run down a county boundary.

Also confusing me is that only some schools have these catchment areas, so people living in one area are in a catchment area for a school, but those living outside this catchement area aren't in a catchment area for ANY school.

And the same thing with feeder schools- why are some schools feeder schools to a secondary school even if they (and those they admit) aren't necessarily closer to the secondary than those attending non-feeder schools.

It seems like back-door selection to me and I can see how this is legal or justified.

MagicMarkers Fri 03-Mar-17 10:41:39

We have a local primary school with a priority catchment. We're in London so there aren't catchment areas generally. It's just done on distance usually.

In this case it's because some streets are in a no man's land in terms of being able to get into local primary schools and that is why they are given priority.

tiggytape Fri 03-Mar-17 10:44:31

Firstly no catchment should be set to deliberately include only wealthier roads for perceived easier intakes. It is possible to object to those if that is happening and have it changed.

Generally though, fixed catchments are used to try to solve the problem of schools being clustered in different places to pupils. If they didn't have a weird shaped catchment in some areas, some houses would be too far from every single school to ever get an offer. So you'd have some people with a choice of 3 schools and some people being forced to travel out of area for a school miles from home.

Or they are used as part of a wider strategy to ensure fairness and spread out applications - some areas have catchment zones and associated schools - again to give everyone a chance of applying to some schools that they will get higher priority for instead of everyone in one area only opting for the two "best" schools.

Feeder schools are used often where continuation is logical. For example where a Junior School is separate from the Infants and parents need to reapply to get into the Juniors (in other areas most people don't have to reapply in Year 2 as they just continue seamlessly into Year 3 at Primary)

And for Catholic children, feeder schools are used to help secure the commitment Catholic parents are under to try to ensure a Catholic education for their child wherever possible. Having committed to it at an early age, it is used to help that continue.

And, at the end of the day, where you have 500 children applying for 60 places at the most popular schools, the vast majority are doomed to be disappointed. Whatever you choose: siblings, catchment area, walking distance, distance as the crow flies....... the people who miss out are often going to think other criteria would have been fairer.

PatriciaHolm Fri 03-Mar-17 10:46:36

The Admissions Code explicitly allows for feeder schools, and for formal catchments, and as such both are entirely legal.

However, defined catchment areas MUST "be designed so that they are reasonable and clearly defined", and "The selection of a feeder school or schools as an oversubscription criterion must be transparent and made on reasonable grounds". So, when challenged, there needs to be reasonable and defined grounds on which the selections have been made.

For example, a school near here has an oddly shaped catchment, as new houses were built some years ago that fell outside the normal admissions areas for every primary within several miles, so the children were being allocated primaries miles away. So the LEA decided that this was unreasonable, and so the local primary had a defined priority catchment created to ensure these houses were given priority to a local school.

Just because someone doesn't live in a formal catchment doesn't mean they don't live within the effective admissions distance for a school. Many areas don't have formal catchments.

If the defined catchment blatantly skips round a certain estate, for example, with no good reason, it would be open to challenge, but it's then up to someone to challenge it.

Feeder schools often have a common ethos (say religion) or are part of the same academy chain, for example.

cantkeepawayforever Fri 03-Mar-17 10:49:32

There was a recent situation where a school tried to adjust its catchment ... in a way that appeared to be 'useful' in terms of the overall profile of admissions across the town, but also managed to slice off a tiny bit of their existing catchment that happened to contain social housing and to be the residence of many of their current 'problem pupils' [whose siblings would have become 'siblings outside catchment' and thus excluded from the oversubscribed school].

It was successfully fought at the consultation stage, but would also have been taken to the LGO had it made it past that point. If a catchment is demonstrably unfair, then there are routes to getting it reconsidered.

LIZS Fri 03-Mar-17 10:55:30

There are some schools near us which are feeders, as the secondary is the most logistically accessible by public transport and there is no local alternative.

TeenAndTween Fri 03-Mar-17 10:56:22

I live in an area of Hants with defined catchments and feeder schools.
Areas cover both in-town and more rural locations.

I think it helps because
- secondary schools can organise bus routes through their catchments to enable more children to get to school more easily
- there is a better possibility of lift share
- links between secondary and feeder schools can be established which is beneficial for continuity of education and general transition to secondary
- it ensures everyone has at least 1 school they are a priority for
- otherwise some kids have a nearer school in a different area but are still nearer by distance to our town schools than some more rural kids who could end up with a massive travel elsewhere

Some of the boundaries are a bit weird because of locations of schools and population, but they are reasonably fair I think - no enclaves or anything.

swingofthings Fri 03-Mar-17 10:56:40

I personally think that the whole feeder schools getting priority is complete nonsense.

When I moved in our new town, I assumed that DS would get a place in our local school considering it is a massive one (5 classes per year). I couldn't believe it when I was told that it was oversubscribe and that the only place he could get was a school much further away by road (railtrack in between) that was under remedial measures.

As I later discovered, the school under remedial measures had experienced some issues for some years, prompting people in that area to try to gain a place to the junior schools feeding to the senior school (the one in my catchment area) that got an outstanding report. As there are three junior feeder schools, there was a very good chance to get a place there and then have a guaranteed place at the junior one. That meant that anyone new moving to the area had no chance to get a place even if they lived next door to the school compared to children leaving miles away.

This was utterly ludicrous in a town already totally swamped by traffic, making commuting in the area an absolute nightmare.

Even better, the irony is that after being put under remedial measure, the school DS ended up attending got a new Headteacher who totally turned around the school within months, and got a good ofsted report less than a year later whilst the outstanding school lost their Headteacher, resulting in real issues, especially with teaching as all left one after another, and two years later....yep, ended up in remedial measures and parents desperate to get their kids transferred to their own local school!

EssentialHummus Fri 03-Mar-17 10:58:32

Nothing to add, but we have one near us where a previously failing primary school was taken over by a federation and now guarantees entry to the very good secondary (which otherwise would be too far away for most, and which is in an expensive neighbourhood). Seemed fair enough but seems to have had the effect of lots of people moving close to the previously failing school to gain entry into the secondary, and house prices there rising... Whatever system is used, there are unfortunately avenues for abuse/winners and losers.

tiggytape Fri 03-Mar-17 11:22:05

Anyone new to an area is likely to end up at one of the least favoured schools unless they move to somewhere with a surplus of school places or are especially lucky with their timing. Whether the popular schools used feeder systems, catchment, distance or siblings to offer places, by the time someone new arrives, all the places are generally allocated.
It can affect your position on a waiting list if they have anything other than distance as a criteria but generally, nothing you can do in terms of admissions criteria will help new people quickly get places at popular schools local to them

BurnTheBlackSuit Fri 03-Mar-17 11:44:01

Thank you for all your replies. I am looking a catchment area map where the skewed bit significantly overlaps catchment areas of other good schools, and incidentally includes richer areas. The catchment also appears to exclude the army housing by going in and the out again to go round it. Would there be a document I could request from the county council or school which would show theie justification for the catchment area being what it is?

lalalonglegs Fri 03-Mar-17 11:53:49

A (free) school near me gives priority to children from a handful of feeder schools. The thinking in this case was that the secondary school is in an area with very high house prices and so by offering priority intake to children from four or five local schools - rather than the usual distance from school criterion - there was more likelihood of a better mix of students.

OdinsLoveChild Fri 03-Mar-17 11:54:49

Our high school has just changed its catchment to remove a village of rich middle class housing and to add a housing estate predominately made up of social housing in a deprived town 10 miles the other direction.

They have also dropped the feeder primary schools to allow a more varied intake rather than the wealthy middle class students they were predominately getting.

Most catchments are set up to allow roughly the same number of potential students for each school.
My address is covered by 4 high school catchment areas despite only 1 high school being in the town. It gives the impression that, you as a parent, actually do have a choice in the school your child attends. The reality is you have to fight tooth and nail to get into any school other than the 1 in the town.

I don't know any document you could request. Most schools themselves can request changes to their catchment if they feel they take too many pupil premium students, ie more than the national average. Its about keeping a balance between those students who need a lot of extra supervision and those who may need very little extra supervision.

Looneytune253 Fri 03-Mar-17 11:56:04

What do the council say the catchment school is for the army housing? Is this a reasonable distance away?

mpsw Fri 03-Mar-17 12:04:46

Finding out what is the catchment school for the army housing is (probably) going to be pretty key in trying to make a case for whether this shape is reasonable.

Children from military families receive pupil premium, because the typical mobility required means such upheaval in schooling that outcomes (at the population level) are well below what they should be. There are various provisions in the Admissions Code and the Military Covenant that are meant to ameliorate this in terms of school admissions. If it does look as if this school is unfairly excluding this patch (ie it's not because it is already covered by another school of a decent standard, or has a school onsite) then it might be worth seeing if the Army Families Federation would want to take a view on this.

swingofthings Fri 03-Mar-17 12:05:32

It can affect your position on a waiting list if they have anything other than distance as a criteria but generally, nothing you can do in terms of admissions criteria will help new people quickly get places at popular schools local to them
And that what makes it wrong. In my case, it wasn't even an instance of moving into a new property in a nice area to get access to the school. I moved in my OH's property who doesn't have kids, so all we wanted was access to the closest school which ironically is not even in a nice area!

I personally think that parents are putting much too much into ofsted reports to then decide how to access schools that are not in their area. Kids are travelling all over town here because of this, when actually, in the past 10 years, good schools have become not so good and vice versa and overall, the difference in SATs/GCSEs results are only marginally better one school compared to another.

Witchend Fri 03-Mar-17 13:38:08

Our juniors has just changed to give priority to two feeder schools.

It's because for both those infant schools they end up with 1-2 children each year (out of 60) that don't get to go. It's always seemed to work out that the children who do miss seem to be the underconfident ones who really could do with staying with friends.

Having seen the distress those children had to face in going to a school where they knew no one-and often most of the other children had come all up together from a different infant school, I support it in this case. It doesn't effect me as mine are too old.

BurnTheBlackSuit Fri 03-Mar-17 13:59:04

There is no catchment school for the army housing. I guess the arguement would be that there is space in the school on the other side of the catchment area (army housing on one side of the catchment for good school, a school requiring improvent is on the other side of the catchment area - this school always has spaces). However the catchment of the good school clearly has a cut in to avoid the army houses. I wondered how this was allowed as it seems like blatant discrimination.

I am most disappointed that school don't have to have a document explaining the catchment and the reasoning behind it. Because it clearly looks to me like all the good schools are competing with their catchments for the wealthy families and discriminating against less desirable children.

Witchend Fri 03-Mar-17 14:07:03

Isn't it the case that army children have priority like looked after children? I'm fairly certain there was at least a move to bring that?
In which case cutting the army school out of the catchment would have no effect at all.

PatriciaHolm Fri 03-Mar-17 14:24:13

Witched - not in general, no. A forces child can be admitted as an excepted child (so into a full class even under Infant Class Size rules) outside the normal admissions round, but forces children are rarely given priority in admissions criteria at general mass admission entry points.

TeenAndTween Fri 03-Mar-17 14:26:54

Forces children, however, do get extra funding.

tiggytape Fri 03-Mar-17 14:37:15

I am most disappointed that school don't have to have a document explaining the catchment and the reasoning behind it. Because it clearly looks to me like all the good schools are competing with their catchments for the wealthy families and discriminating against less desirable children.
They don't have to have a document but they do have to be able to justify it if challenged.

Here is one example and another of schools who have had issues with admissions criteria that discriminated against poorer families.

Of course that does rely on somebody reporting the issue and seeking to have it addressed.

Witchend Fri 03-Mar-17 14:58:44

Thanks, Patricia I knew I'd heard of it being touted about-we're in an army area, it's probably the excepted child case I heard.
Interestingly the school that was against it was the one where the army ones tend to go to, the other schools weren't bothered either way as far as I could tell.

MrGrumpy01 Fri 03-Mar-17 15:39:55

Our schools all have 'admission zones' our nearest school is not my catchments school as it goes out the other way. A perfect circle around every school wouldn't work due to the proximity of the schools in relation to where people actually live. It is a little frustrating though that some live less than a mile from a school but need to go 3 miles away to their school.

Feeder schools can be difficult. It happens where my Mum lives, parents get themselves into the primary school and they are sorted. Often they are outside the area meaning those local struggle to get places. But the law is such that academies can set their own admission codes.

Fourmantent Fri 03-Mar-17 18:19:54

Small rural junior schools may have more security if they are attached to a popular secondary as they will attract parents from further afield. The students attend events at the secondary such as cross- country, art days, combined music events, drama events, etc. Teachers from the secondary may come to the feeder for transition days, music days, etc. This helps create a "community" concept. Parents willing to drive to the feeder rather than walk to their local non-feeder will be higher up on the admissions criteria for the popular secondary.

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