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Gove's free schools could be scuppered by School Admissions Code

Interested in starting one of the Free Schools which Michael Gove is going to allow? Read this and weep. It is the Schools Admissions Code.

As The Spectator says in a leader this week:

Rather than march down Whitehall at the introduction of new schools, the unions will simply make sure that local authorities deploy every trick to stifle the upstarts. Simply ensuring that the new schools obey the 150-page admissions code — and can be sued for failing to do so — will bog them down in bureaucracy and lead would-be schools companies to conclude that it is not worth the bother.

The version I could find had a mere 87 pages. But it felt like 150. The word "must" appears frequently - with strong highlighting. There are also regular menacing references to the School's Adjudicator. The Chief Schools Adjudicator Ian Craig has suggested parents caught telling lies to get their children into a good school should be imprisoned. Wouldn't a better approach be to have more good schools to go round? One thing that might help would be scrapping the meddling Office of Schools Adjudicator and giving the £1.3 million it costs to schools.

Anyway the Code begins with a message from then Education Secretary Ed Balls:

It is only right that parents and the wider community have a say in the admission arrangements of their local schools. This is why we have placed a new duty on all admission authorities to consult with parents and the local community on their proposed admission arrangements in order to ensure arrangements meet the needs of the local area.

Thus casually is yet another an extra burden imposed on our schools. For good schools to flourish they need to be able to control their own admissions. They are schools where the parents willingly send their children and the schools willingly take them.

The code says:

Admission to a school must not be conditional on parents signing a home–school agreement,
under section 111 of the SSFA 1998.

But this clearly undermines the Home School Agreements which has worked well at such schools as the London Oratory where the Blairs sent their sons.

The code adds:

Governing bodies of all maintained schools must promote community cohesion, under
section 21 of the EA 2002. Ofsted will report on the discharge of this duty12.

Of course grammar schools are singled out for discrimination:

Local authorities and the Schools Adjudicator, when making decisions over setting an admission number or admitting above them, should have regard to the presumption that proposals to expand successful and popular schools, except grammar schools, should be approved.

Burdensome consultation is further specified. Would a free school be expected to operate as its own "admission authority"?:

Admission authorities must consult with their local authority, all other admission authorities within the relevant area, the Admission Forum, admission authorities in neighbouring local authority areas, the relevant religious authority (in the case of the admission authorities of faith schools) and, for admission arrangements for entry in 2010-11 and subsequent years, relevant parents and other groups with an interest in the local area (for example, community groups). Where an admission authority proposes an increase in the published admission number for a school in their admission arrangements, the trade unions representing staff at the school that may be affected by the changes should also be consulted. Admission authorities must determine their admission arrangements by 15 April in the determination year.

If I was setting up a school I would think interviewing prospective parents to decide if I want to admit their children be rather a sensible idea. It is banned.

Section 88A of the SSFA 1998 prohibits the interviewing of parents and/or children as a method for deciding whether a child is to be offered a place at a school. Interviews must not form part of the admissions process and admission authorities must not use either face-to-face interviews or interviews by telephone or other means.

If I exclude unfair practices I read this is not enough. What am I doing to "actively promote equity?"

Admission authorities must also ensure that their admission arrangements comply with all other relevant 24 School Admissions Code equalities legislation (see Appendix 1). Admission authorities and governing bodies should develop and implement admission arrangements, practices and oversubscription criteria that actively promote equity, and thus go further than simply ensuring that unfair practices and criteria are excluded.

Some clauses are simply bizarre:

Schools must not require parents to attend the school in person in order to collect an application form and must not require parents to return the completed application form to the school.

Crucial to a good school is not being forced to have disruptive children in the classroom. Some might relish the challenge of accepting such children - perhaps recruit some former soldiers to teach them. Other schools might not wish to have them. Yet we read:

Admission authorities must not refuse to admit children in or outside the normal admission round on the basis of their poor behaviour elsewhere, unless paragraph 3.30 applies. They also must not refuse to admit a child thought to be potentially disruptive, or to exhibit challenging behaviour, on the grounds that the child is to first be assessed for special educational needs.

This is a useful clause for the teacher unions:

Local authorities must refer an objection to the Schools Adjudicator if they consider, or are made aware of, any admission arrangements proposed by any other admission authority that are unlawful, that do not comply with the mandatory requirements or guidelines in this Code, or that appear to be unfair, unclear and subjective or encourage social segregation. Local authorities must refer the objection as soon as such admission arrangements come to their attention. Local authorities may refer such an objection with their report or separately.

There is also plenty of items like the following:

If parents request copies of information that local authorities and school governing bodies publish free of charge in a version translated in to a language other than English or produced in Braille or audio tape, this must be provided free of charge.

If Michael Gove is serious about free schools then he needs to swing his axe over this stuff. An exemption for the Free Schools would be one way forward. Streamlining the code would be another. My preference would be to scrap the whole thing. Allow schools to decide their own admissions and release the army of Local Authority and School Adjudicator admissions police for more productive activity.


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