Admissions system a mess, says campaigner

The Government must sort out the admissions system as a priority, giving + parents a choice while ensuring that no child is left without a place, say + campaigners.As thousands of children this week started at their second or third+ choice secondary schools, the Advisory Centre for Education reported that more+ parents than ever rang its hotline during the past academic year after being + rejected by the school they had requested. And Margaret Tulloch, of the + Campaign for State Education, said the Government had hard questions to answer + as it tried to clear up the mess of the admissions system.The Audit Commission + outlined the problem in a report last December. Trading Places declared + parental choice a myth, with one in five failing to get their first choice and+ appeals up 44 per cent over three years. The system was approaching gridlock, + it warned.CASE blames the fragmentation of state education, with + grant-maintained schools running separate systems from local authorities, and + selection putting a further spanner in the works.The Government's White Paper + proposes national guidelines, with local authorities creating joint admissions + forums with grant-maintained and church schools.Ms Tulloch said: "All will + depend on how tight the guidelines are and how much the Government watches over+ whether schools are operating them."She added: "There should be clear + guidelines, probably based on siblings and nearness to school, with a + neighbourhood school your children has a right to attend and the option of + others if there are places."ACE says a growing proportion of its 5,000 calls a + year is taken up by admissions problems - more than it can handle. It has + responded with Appealing for a School, a booklet to guide parents through the + complex process."The problem is most parents don't understand the remit of the + appeals committee," a spokeswoman said. "There is a whole layer of people with+ a strong reason for a particular school who aren't actually expressing it in + the right way and are losing their appeal when they should have had a + reasonable chance of winning."But local authorities with particular problems + suggested things were starting to settle down - and some were pre-empting the + Government's plans.In the London borough of Brent, 11 of the 13 secondary + schools have opted out.Chief education officer John Simpson said: "Two years + ago the GM schools decided to run their own admissions systems. That was a + mess." Now, the GM schools pay the council for administrative work to + co-ordinate the system and track multiple applications. Mr Simpson said: "That + will serve us well when we have an admissions forum."School Choices and Appeals+ (#163;5.50) and Appealing for a School (#163;1.50) from ACE, 1b Aberdeen + Studios, 22 Highbury Grove, London N5 2DQ

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