Expect confusion from an unclear admissions code

John Freeman
Monday, June 13, 2011

When I worked in local authorities, many parents were - rightly - concerned about whether the school their children attended was any good. And just about every parent became passionate about getting their children into the school they wanted.

So the new draft School Admissions Code is worth a careful read, especially as admissions will be managed by an ever-increasing number of admissions authorities as more and more schools convert to academies.

The draft code has three central principles: fairness, objectivity and clarity. It is very much shorter and simpler than previously. And much of the code is to be welcomed, where it explicitly supports children in care and other vulnerable groups, and encourages schools to admit pupils from a range of backgrounds.

But I have serious concerns about "clarity" in the context of a system that operates without any co-ordination by the local authority or anyone else. Even at the simplest level - that of definition of terms - the draft code says only that individual admissions authorities must define their own terms clearly. The problem is that schools will, inevitably, choose their own definitions, resulting in complete confusion among parents.

Let me give just one example — one that will resonate with admissions colleagues up and down the land — the admission of siblings. Admissions authorities are left to decide their own definition of "sibling" and whether it should include half-siblings, step-siblings, adopted siblings, fostered siblings, and siblings who attended but will have left by the date of admission.

So the draft code has achieved apparent simplicity by leaving key decisions to be made inconsistently by individual admissions authorities.

It would have been really helpful if the Department for Education had decided these issues nationally, or, failing that, if there was a local mechanism with powers to ensure local consistency - why not call it an Admissions Forum?

John Freeman CBE is a former director of children's services and is now a freelance consultant Read his blog at cypnow.co.uk/freemansthinking

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