A new Admissions Code will be introduced
But will guidance, stop covert selection?
The debate over the new Admissions Code is beginning. Parental choice is a keystone of the government’s education policy, and demand for a high-quality school place outstrips supply. Put simply there are too few good schools to go around. The good schools tend to be colonised by pushy middle class parents prepared to pay a Premium on their House Price to be in the catchment area of a good school. In cities competition is particularly fierce: a third of secondary-school age children in London failed to get their first choice of school this year. The Secretary of State is keen for a new Admissions Code, though Ed Balls introduced a new one not so long ago which has only just taken effect. Gove is determined somehow to ensure that disadvantaged pupils can access the best schools. One in six of England’s state secondary schools has now broken away from the control of local authorities to become an “academy”, and their numbers are expected to double in the coming year or so. The situation is made more complex because most faith schools act as their own admissions authority. Academies too are exempt from their council’s admissions policies, though they remain subject to the national code and so, for example, cannot select by academic prowess. Parents who set up state-funded “free” schools face the same restrictions and cannot favour the founders’ children under the existing rules. But as the Economist says (5 May) ‘Giving such schools a bit more freedom to manage their admissions would make sense—it should help them to build a clear identity and thus a stronger esprit de corps. But squaring this with Mr Gove’s promise to ensure that more parents get their first choice of school will be a difficult trade-off. At best his revised rule book seems likely to end up only a little less complex than its predecessors.’ Gove will find that simply changing the Admissions guidance and simplifying it will not necessarily make it fairer particularly for the most disadvantaged pupils. The fact that the current Admissions Code runs to over a hundred pages is not because some bureaucrat was getting paid by the word. It’s because it’s a very complex area and some schools have in the past (including Faith schools) devised canny ways of ensuring that they can still select pupils without leaving any evidence in their wake. Some favour a lottery system, which is probably fairer than most other systems but it seems that this is not on the cards as it too has its critics.
It remains a fact that the best state schools are usually, at least partially, selective in that they accept less than their respective local authority average of pupils with special needs, on free school meals or with English as their second language.When a school argues that it is successful because of its ethos, superior teaching, leadership etc that may well be the case as some schools really do add value, but cast a beady eye on the number of its pupils on SEN, FSM and English as their second language before you accept such claims at face value!