Most secondary heads open to making admissions fairer

Parents and teachers also want fairer admissions system where schools better reflect their communities, says Sutton Trust
27th February 2020, 12:05am


Most secondary heads open to making admissions fairer
Admissions Review

Almost two-thirds of secondary school heads are open to reviewing their admission policies to make them fairer, according to a new study.

However, the research from the Sutton Trust, published today, also shows that while 50 per cent of secondary heads believe social segregation is a problem in state schools, 43 per cent don't consider the socioeconomic make-up of their community when designing admissions policies.

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the social mobility charity, said: "Our school system is highly socially segregated. Schools with well-off intakes sit alongside those with high levels of disadvantage. And low- and moderate-income families are less likely to access the highest-performing schools.

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"It's clear from today's research that parents and teachers alike want to see a much fairer system, where schools better reflect their communities. 

"This would have far-reaching benefits, from better levels of overall attainment to improved teacher recruitment and retention."

The research was carried out by the National Foundation for Educational Research and surveyed 1,506 classroom teachers and senior leaders in mainstream non-selective state schools across both primary and secondary level.

It found that 71 per cent of teachers in the most socially selective schools said their school had no problem with the balance of their intake - despite Sutton Trust research from last year showing they take substantially fewer disadvantaged pupils than the national average.

The report states: "Almost two-thirds (62%) of secondary leaders were open to conducting a fair admissions review of their policies. Opinions on how best to tackle the problem are more mixed, with teachers split between random ballots, prioritisation of disadvantaged pupils, and banding tests."

Meanwhile, a second report by Professors Anna Vignoles and Simon Burgess, also published by the Sutton Trust today, shows how the admissions system favours the wealthy.

Professor Burgess said: "Our research has shown that rich and poor use the school choice system in the same way. The problem is that the core element of our school admissions system - allocating places by proximity to the school - favours the wealthy. Better-off parents can essentially buy access to high-performing popular schools through where they can choose to live."

The first report also includes a poll of parents by YouGov, which finds that an overwhelming majority is supportive of fairer admissions, with 64 per cent saying high-achieving schools should make an effort to take in pupils from less well-off backgrounds.

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, called for school admission policies to be decided at a local authority level. She said: "The legacy of academisation is not one of school improvement but of competition, leading to a marked imbalance during the admissions process."

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders' union NAHT, said: "We should always be open to finding new ways to make admissions fair to all but this will require a coordinated, joined-up response."

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "We need to recognise that identifying solutions is likely to be more practical in urban areas where families from a variety of income groups are in relatively close proximity to a high-performing school, and more difficult to achieve in areas where this is not the case."

The research has been published ahead of national school offer day on Monday when pupils and parents will learn what secondary school they have been offered

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "All children should be able to benefit from a good school place, regardless of their background.

"Pupils are significantly more likely to be offered a place at a good school than they were 10 years ago, with 86 per cent of schools rated good or outstanding now compared to 68 per cent in 2010.

"The Schools Admission Code is clear that admission arrangements must not unfairly disadvantage any child."


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