Campaigners seek to save Admissions Forums
Currently, all local authorities are required to establish an Admission Forum. This is a vehicle for admission authorities and other interested parties to discuss the effectiveness of local admission arrangements, to consider how to deal with difficult local admission issues and to advise admission authorities on how arrangements can be improved. Their key role is to ensure a fair admission system. In the White Paper preceding the Education Act 2002 Act the (Labour) Government said that school admission forums had played a valuable role in making sure admission arrangements served the needs of local children and parents and they were made compulsory in the Education Act 2002. The current School Admission Code identifies the role of the School Admissions Forum as– to provide a vehicle for admission authorities and other key interested parties to discuss the effectiveness of local admission arrangements, consider how to deal with difficult admission issues and to advise admission authorities on ways in which their arrangements can be improved. Their main focus is to consider the fairness of arrangements in their local context. Admission authorities of all maintained schools and Academies, when exercising their functions, must have regard to any advice offered by the Forum. The forums bring together school governors, parents, churches and local authorities in a statutory body to monitor admissions in their areas. Current regulations stipulate that membership is to be no more than 20 with at least one representative of community, voluntary aided, voluntary controlled, foundation and academies and CTCs in the relevant area, representatives of each of the religious bodies involved in any of the local schools, at least one parent and at least one community representative. School representatives must be heads or governors but not local authority governors. The school white paper said that legislation would remove requirements for local authorities to establish an Admissions Forum and provide annual reports to the Schools Adjudicator. Instead the Government want local authorities to set up arrangements that work best for their area. The white paper also said that the Schools Adjudicator will focus on specific complaints about admission arrangements for all schools, including academies and free schools.
The Admissions Code will be simplified to make it easier for schools and parents to understand and act upon, while maintaining fairness as the Code’s guiding principle. So, the abolition of the forums, is envisaged in the Education Bill currently before the Commons- Clause 34(2) Admission Forums. Clause 34 seeks to make a number of changes to the school admission provisions contained in Part 3 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. The requirement on English local authorities to establish an Admission Forum for their area would be removed. The powers of the School Adjudicator would be restricted by repealing section 88J of the SSFA 1998 so that the School Adjudicator’s remit is limited to direct complaints about an admission policy. Currently the Schools Adjudicators, upon referral of a specific matter concerning a maintained school’s admission arrangements, is required to consider whether it would be appropriate for changes to be made to any aspect of those admission arrangements in consequence of the matter referred. They can also consider whether any other changes to the arrangements are appropriate. The requirement under section 88P of SSFA 1998 for local authorities to provide to the School Adjudicator reports on admissions to schools in their area would be removed. The power of the Secretary of State to make regulations prescribing the content of such reports is also removed, and the Explanatory Notes state that instead the School Admissions Code will contain the requirements for reports on school admissions in their area.
The abolition of admission forums will, critics say, reduce direct parental involvement as parent governor representatives are part of the required membership. Importantly parent groups come to the meetings of the forum to make representations. It is regarded as easier in the first instance for parent groups to attend a local forum than to approach the Adjudicator. Additionally if the role of the Adjudicator in changing admission criteria, following what may be a parental complaint is reduced, this too will result in a reduced parental role in the system. The White Paper said that instead of the current provisions local authorities’ role will be to make the process as fair and simple as possible for parents and pupils, setting up local arrangements which work for that area. The White Paper claimed that making changes would ‘end the bureaucratic requirements’ on local authorities. There is not much evidence either way on the effectiveness of these forums although anecdotal evidence suggests that some are more effective than others. An NFER report in 2010 surveyed LA admission officers on the whole process of admissions, and views on admission forums were mixed but positive comments appeared to outweigh negative ones. Campaigners from ‘Comprehensive Future’ are lobbying MPs to save these forums. Evidence is strong, they claim, that schools that are their own admission authority do not take the proportion of children on free school meals represented in their communities. That some schools, deliberately or through failing to be aware of the legal requirements in the Admissions Code, have failed to admit children from disadvantaged backgrounds, has been evidenced by research (for example from the Sutton Trust 2006 and listed in Allen, West and Coldron for a DfE Research Report in 2010 ). This makes effective local scrutiny even more important.
Note 1: Clause 60 of the Bill amends Chapter 1 of Part 3 of SSFA 1998 to allow School Adjudicators to consider and to determine eligible objections or referrals relating to the admissions arrangements of academies, as they do in respect of maintained schools
The Government will shortly launch a national consultation so that parents and other interested parties can respond to its proposals to enable a simpler, fairer and more transparent admissions framework.
Rudd.P, Gardiner C and Marson-Smith,H (2010) Local Authority Approaches to the School Admissions Process (LG Group research report) NFER