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FAIR SCHOOL ADMISSIONS, EQUAL ACCESS

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No child should be disadvantaged by unfair admissions practice and criteria and every parent should know the basis ...
No child should be disadvantaged by unfair admissions practice and criteria and every parent should know the basis on which their child will be admitted to a school education secretary Alan Johnson said today as he launched a consultation on the new School Admissions Code.

'Schools must have the flexibility to set admission arrangements that meet their needs but these arrangements must also be fair, clear and easy to understand for parents. These are the principles that underpin the new admissions code. We have toughened up the rules governing admissions so that every school and local authority knows what they can or cannot do when determining school intake. These changes will help us and schools to deliver a fair and equitable school system and banish any selection by stealth.'

The changes we are making will extend the ability of parents and admission forums to object to unfair arrangements and ensures that decisions overturning unfair practices are binding for three years (rather than one as at present) and that no school can re-introduce partial selection once it has been removed.

The Education and Inspections Bill, currently before Parliament, will place a statutory duty on school admissions authorities, local authorities, admission forums, school governing bodies, admission appeal panels and adjudicators 'to act in accordance with' the new Code. This means that they must comply with its mandatory provisions and closes a legal loophole that allowed schools to circumvent the Code - up until now they have only had to have regard to it. The Bill will also outlaw interviewing as part of a school's admissions arrangements, although parents are still encouraged to visit prospective schools and to meet the head teacher.

Under the draft Code, schools and authorities will have the freedom to determine their own admissions policies but will do so within a strict but flexible framework that clearly rules out practices which might restrict the access of some children to schools.

Examples of unfair practices and oversubscription criteria that the new Code will ban are:

* taking account of a parent's financial status or occupation or educational or social background;

* taking into account parents ability to financially or otherwise support the school;

* taking into account former family connections with a school.

The Draft Skeleton Code published in April set out many of the changes that are being published for formal consultation today. In addition the new Code will now also prohibit:

* placing conditions on the type of schools that parents must list on their general application form in order to be given priority for admission. At present some schools insist that all schools chosen by a parent must be of a similar make up eg all faith schools;

* giving higher priority to parents who make a particular school their first preference. This restricts choice and forces parents into playing an admissions game in order to secure a school place for theirchildren.

The new Code will ensure that all children have a fair chance of attending the school they want and taken together with the Government ' s wider work - co-ordinated admissions, choice advisers, improvements in home-to-school transport and creating more good school places - will help parents access the right school for their child.

Mr Johnson said:

'The vast majority of schools operate fair and transparent admissions policies and for most schools the new code will not mean any changes to their existing arrangements. However, a minority of schools have used unfair criteria to influence their intake. I am determined to end this unfairness and it is right that we take steps to ensure that no child is disadvantaged compared to another.

'The package of measures for consultation will end practices that create unfairness in the system. There will be no return to selection, no interviews used to decide whether a child should be offered a place at a school and no consideration of such things as the marital status of parents or their ability to contribute financially to the school. The new Code will ensure that every child, regardless of background, has a fair chance of securing a place at the school they want to attend.

'In addition we have already given priority to the most disadvantaged children of all - those who are looked after by the state - and the Bill will ensure that this applies both within and outside the normal admissions round. This means that Looked After Children who move to a new foster family, for example, will be entitled to a place in the school that best meets their needs - rather than having to go to a school with spare places.

'We have done more than any other government to ensure there are more good schools available. Since 1997 we have more than halved the number of failing schools, we have created 46 academies working to meet the needs of some of our most disadvantaged children and we are supporting our best schools to expand. Our reforms will build on this progress to ensure high standards in every school throughout the system.'

Schools and local authorities will be able to continue to use all other admission arrangements and oversubscription criteria which are widely considered to be good practice, including those which give priority to children who live nearest to a school; or within a particular catchment area; to those with siblings attending the same school; and banding arrangements which are designed to ensure that a school's intake represents the full range of ability of applicants.

The new code will apply to all maintained schools, including academies, trust schools and boarding schools.

Notes

This press notice applies to England.

1) Admission arrangements are decided at local level, after consultation between admission authorities.

2) The current guidelines on admissions were set out in The Schools Admissions and the Schools Admission Appeals Codes of Practice (latest versions in force since 31 January 2003).

3) The updated School Admissions Code (the Code) will come into

force in February 2007 subject to this consultation and approval by Parliament and is made under section 84 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 as amended by the Education and Inspections Act 2006. Section 84(3) requires school admissions authorities, local authorities, admission forums, school governing bodies, admission appeal panels and adjudicators to act in accordance with the provisions, requirements and guidelines set out in the Code.

4) Consultation on the Code will last for 12 weeks ending on 1 December.

5) The new Code will apply to admissions in September 2008.

6) Parents not offered the school place that they want for their child, can appeal to independent appeal panels.

7) A Draft Skeleton Admissions Code was provided to the Education and Inspections Bill Standing Committee members in April 2006. This skeleton Code provided an outline of the new Code and set out many of the mandatory provisions that were to be included in the full draft published for consultation today. The full draft now prohibits the use of first preference and conditionality as oversubscription criteria. The full draft includes additional guidelines on for example children that are hard to place, those from overseas (admission authorities must not adopt procedures or criteria that disadvantage children who arrive in their area outside the normal admission round), children with special educational needs (3.54,

2.5(g) and 2.15 of the Code combine to rule out giving children with SEN or medical need (but no statement) lower priority in admissions) and children of service families (3.38 of the Code imposes a number of mandatory requirements in respect of the children of service families to ensure they are not disadvantaged in school admissions).

8) The consultation can be found at

http:ww.dfes.gov.uk/consultations

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