Elizabeth Passmore, the Schools Adjudicator, has recommended in her annual report that the Department for Education “may wish to reconsider who can make an objection to the arrangements for a particular school, possibly limiting it to those with proper standing for making the objection.”
Under current rules, any citizen or civil society organisation is permitted to submit an objection with the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) if they believe that a school has failed to comply with the School Admissions Code. In the absence of a body actively enforcing compliance with the Code, these objections represent the main way of ensuring that schools adhere to the law and do not attempt to manipulate their intakes.
However, Dr Passmore’s report, published shortly before Christmas, notes that “there have been instances of pressure groups and individuals making use of the [public right to object], when it appears to be more about trying to influence a policy matter than concern about the arrangements of a school for which parents might legitimately be considering applying for a place for their child.” She further argues that dealing with objections from those with “no connection in terms of seeking a place for their child” is “not good use of an adjudicator’s time and public money”.
The Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, has announced that she intends to implement these recommendations by narrowing the right to object to parents living in a school’s local area. Local authorities will also retain their right to submit objections.
These proposals follow a report by the British Humanist Association and the Fair Admissions Campaign alleging widespread breaches of the School Admissions Code by faith schools in England.
The BHA has described the new proposals as an “affront to both democracy and the rule of law”. BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented: “A near-universal failure to adhere to the law in a particular area has been identified. Instead of moving to enforce the law, the Government has responded by planning to make it harder to identify future violations of it.
The Government plans to launch a consultation on its proposals in the next few months. Ms Morgan stated: “We will also put a stop to vexatious complaints against faith schools by secularist campaign groups. At the same time we will be giving parents a greater voice by requiring admission authorities to consult every 4 years.”