Admissions cause some concerns

Now the website of the School Adjudicators isn’t high on my regular websites to visit. However, I recently paid it a visit to read the decision about admissions to Banbury Academy in Oxfordshire. The Adjudicator partially upheld the complains from another school in the town and the Conservative controlled county council in a detailed 23 page decision covering a whole range of admissions issues.

On my visit, I couldn’t help but notice that the Adjudicator had been a series of decisions through the summer. Indeed, since the end of July, the Adjudicator has upheld 13 complains and partially upheld a further nine, making 22 complaints upheld in full or part compared with 13 where complaints were not upheld. The majority of complaints not upheld were against admission arrangements in the primary sector. These were either for individual schools or in three cases arrangements made by local authorities. A complaint was upheld against one authority and partially upheld against another.
Academies were concerned in twelve of the complaints upheld either in full or in part and only in four cases were such complaints not upheld among the decisions reported upon since the end of July. There was a complaint against one ‘free’ school reported during this period, but it was not upheld.

Reading the decisions shows just what a minefield school admissions have become. They are set to become even worse if the rule about siblings is changed by the government to give them priority over children living near to a school. I recall a case of a popular village school where families would move in a rent a property, secure a place for their first child and then move to a cheaper location to buy a house secure in the knowledge they would be able to send other children to the school. The case was drawn to my attention when a five-year old living opposite the school gates had to be transported by taxi to another school as there was no place available at the local school. Now, the Conservative view seems to be that these schools can just expand. However, unless the rules on funding are changed, primary schools will be faced with either larger classes or cutting expenditure elsewhere to fund the places for siblings. The third alternative is for the local authority to find an alternative school and, if necessary, pay the transport costs to taxi young children around to satisfy the needs of other parents.

However, there are a group of parents that aren’t catered for in the present handling of the parental choice rules. These are families where one parent, and especially the mother, is not fully fit and has limited mobility for whatever reason. There is often no way in the admissions arrangements to handle such a situation because appeal panels aren’t not allowed discretion. In some other circumstances the use of the word ‘normally’ would provide room for manoeuvre, as it also would in handling sibling requests where parents don’t live as close to the school as other pupils unable to access the school. Providing panels gave reasons that could be tested this might help deal with some of the anomalies in the present system, as happens with transport appeals.

This problem is that when the number of pupils is on the increase not everyone will be satisfied with the outcome, whatever system is adopted.


7 thoughts on “Admissions cause some concerns

  1. What concerns me about the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) is that it can’t consider complaints until a school’s governing body has ‘determined’ the admissions criteria. In theory, this should be done annually and a copy sent to the LA. In practice, the former often doesn’t happen and OSA would be unable to investigate a complaint. For example, a complaint was submitted to OSA re Durand Academy in May 2014. The admission criteria hadn’t been properly determined. This caused such a delay that OSA couldn’t judge the criteria until 4 February 2015 which was, of course, after admission requests for Durand in September 2015 would have been submitted.

    This isn’t acceptable. It’s possible for schools to get away with dodgy admission criteria for years by expediently not determining their admission criteria by the deadline.

    • Janet,

      Exactly and where admissions are ultra vires the complaint should be to the Secretary of State that the school is acting unreasonably. However, there needs to be a faster mechanism to prevent schools behaving in such a manner deliberately.

      John Howson

  2. I’d also like to see OSA being more proactive and look at a random sample of admission criteria every year. However, I realise they’re up against staffing issues (part-time adjudicators, workload etc). There’s a role for LAs here – to insist on receiving properly determined admission criteria from schools which are their own admission authorities by the deadline, reporting those that do not, and checking all admission criteria for non-community schools. If non-community schools (academies, VA schools etc) don’t comply, their admission criteria should be scrapped and substituted by the LA-wide admission criteria for community/VC schools. This should ensure non-community schools couldn’t be tardy or complacent about their admission criteria. If it doesn’t adhere to the Schools Admission Code, then it reverts to the default LA-wide one. This could upset a large number of faith schools but all they need to do to keep their faith criteria (which is allowed under the Code) is ensure their admission criteria adhere to the Code and are properly determined.

    • Janet,

      There is indeed a role for LAs and if you read the Banbury academy decision letter you will see it was Oxfordshire LA that raised the majority of the objections despite being a Tory controlled authority supported by a small number of independents.

      John Howson

  3. When OSA had its own separate website, it was possible to search for, say, how many academies had had complaints against them upheld or partially upheld. But OSA is now on GovUK website and the search facility is not longer available. Researchers like me would now have to trawl through every individual decision to find this info.

    The move also raises questions about OSA’s independence (and that of Ofsted and Ofqual which have also moved to GovUK). I expressed my concern here:

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