Government set out plans for revised school admissions code

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On 22 July 2014 the Government launched a public consultation on proposed changes to the School Admissions Code 2012 (Code).  The consultation closed on 29 September.

The Government has now published a summary of the consultation responses and the Government’s response outlining the next steps.

The stated purpose of the Code is to ensure that school places for all maintained schools and academies are allocated and offered lawfully and in an open and fair way.  Admission authorities for maintained schools and academies must comply with the provisions of the Code.

    1. Priority for children eligible for the pupil or service premium

The proposed change will allow all schools (and not only academies and free schools, as at present) the option of giving admission priority to children attracting the pupil premium, the early years pupil premium or the service premium.

Admission authorities will be able to use this priority flexibly and do not have to give admission priority to every pupil premium recipient.  For example they could choose to adopt the pupil premium priority for a proportion of their places to mirror local pupil premium levels; or to give priority with reference to other oversubscription criteria such as limiting it to pupil premium children living within the school’s catchment area.

    1.  Priority for nursery children eligible for the early years pupil premium, pupil or service premium

This proposed change will allow admission authorities of primary schools which have a nursery to give priority in their admission arrangements to disadvantaged children who attend the nursery.  This will allow continuity of education for those children most in need of such support and stability whilst providing an implicit limit on the proportion of children who can be prioritised, so that reception places remain available for other local parents who may have been unable or unwilling to send their child to the nursery.

As with the pupil premium proposal, there will be no requirement for an admission authority to adopt this priority, and any which choose to may do so flexibly and in a manner which is appropriate to their local circumstances.

This addition is a welcome clarification.  Over the past year the Schools Adjudicator has in a number of cases held that it is unlawful to give priority in the oversubscription criteria to children attending a school’s nursery because:

(a) it is unfair to give priority to those who are able or willing to take up a nursery place a couple of years before entry to Reception because this may disadvantage those who choose not to take up a nursery place and those who are unable to do so, for example because they come to the area too late to be able to do so;

(b) taking a nursery place may confer a financial advantage to the school and may potentially breach para 1.9(e) of the Code which prohibits a criterion which “give[s] priority to children on the basis of any practical or financial support parents may give to the school or any associated organisation, including any religious authority”; and/or

(c)   the admission arrangements for admission to the nursery are not governed by the Code, which means a school’s governing body could potentially indirectly influence admission to reception in a way which may breach the Code.

    1. Changes to the admissions timetable

These changes are intended to improve compliance with the Code by:

(a)   ensuring unlawful admission arrangements are changed more quickly, by introducing a standard two-month rolling deadline for compliance with a determination of the Schools Adjudicator; and

(b)   ensuring the Schools Adjudicator can begin to consider objections earlier, by bringing forward the deadline for objections to the Schools Adjudicator.

DfE intends to bring forward the prescribed period in which admission authorities may consult on proposed admission arrangements and the deadline for then determining the admission arrangements and notifying the local authority.  The local authority will then have to publish the admission arrangements sooner.

    1. Admission of summer born children

These changes are intended to clarify the provisions around the admission of summer born children outside their normal age group.

Many parents supported the proposed changes, but wanted all summer born children to have an automatic right, if their parents so chose, to a place in the lower year group so that they start in reception when they reach compulsory school age.  Many admission authorities favoured retaining the status quo and emphasised the importance of decisions being made on a case-by-case basis.  Some local authorities expressed wider concerns that a large number of children being admitted outside of their normal age group would make ensuring there are sufficient reception places for all children more difficult.

    1. Other technical drafting changes

Most respondents strongly supported the proposed changes as sensible clarifications to the current drafting which should reduce confusion and make the Code easier to understand.

Next steps

Subject to approval, the revised Code will come into force in December 2014.

If your school is considering changing its admission arrangements, we would be happy to discuss how we can help.

For more information please contact Chris Hook or 0191 211 7929.