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SHEPHARD ANNOUNCES SCHOOLS' ADMISSIONS POLICY

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Education secretary Gillian Shephard today set out plans to cut by 50%, 'the forest of regulation and rigid bureauc...
Education secretary Gillian Shephard today set out plans to cut by 50%, 'the forest of regulation and rigid bureaucracy', surrounding schools` admissions arrangements.

The proposals, sent out for consultation, give the Grant Maintained sector the same freedoms as LEA and Voluntary Aided schools to respond to the wishes of parents and the local community.

A new, slimmed down draft circular, half the size of the present guidance proposes that:

-- All schools will have the flexibility to admit up to 15 % of pupils by aptitude or ability in particular subjects or generally

-- Grant maintained schools will no longer have to seek the approval of the Secretary of State for minor changes* to their arrangements

-- Admissions authorities should consult interested parties even when making minor changes

-- Where different admissions authorities operate in the same area, coordinated arrangements should be considered

Schools admissions criteria should be:

-- Published annually

-- Clearly and accurately described

-- indicate the weight to be attached to ability and how ability would be measured

-- Schools will still have to admit pupils up to full capacity and parents can expect to be offered a place unless there are more candidates with a stronger claim.

Mrs Shephard said: 'The new, slimmed down circular places the emphasis firmly on flexibility, clarity and responsiveness to the needs of the community.

'Parents need to know how decisions about their children will be taken. Clear admissions arrangements are vital and local consultation is a key element of this framework. The new circular has cut a swathe through the forest of regulation and rigid bureaucracy surrounding admissions arrangements.

'The removal of large areas of prescription reflects our belief that schools and not the DfEE are best placed to decide on admissions arrangements which reflect the wishes of parents and the community.

'I am therefore proposing that GM schools should no longer have to come to the department whenever they want to change their arrangements, provided these would not mean a 'significant change of character' for the school. LEA and VA schools do not have to - and nor should GM schools.

'Interviews with parents and children already play an important role in the admission procedures of many denominational and selective schools. It is right that all schools should be able to decide for themselves whether this is a useful mechanism and whether other arrangements, such as home-school contracts, can assist children's education.

'It is important to give parents every opportunity to express their commitment to their children's schools. There are countless examples of good practice in this area which I hope the consultation process will highlight.

'The law says that schools cannot in general keep places empty if parents want them. How a school decides which pupils to admit if it is popular and oversubscribed should not be laid down from the centre. All admission authorities should have theflexibility to respond to the wishes of parents and the local community, and to reflect the ethos and aspirations of their school in their admission arrangements.

'The draft circular says that all schools are likely to be able to admit up to 15% of pupils by aptitude or ability in a particular subject, or by general ability - without the need to go through the cumbersome 'statutory proposals' route.'

GM schools, and national bodies including representatives of the local authority associations and the churches, will also be consulted on the text of a new admissions circular. The emphasis is on the flexibility that LEAs and schools have in taking their own decisions in responding to the wishes of parents. But all admission arrangements should be clear, so that parents know how decisions will be taken.

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