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Exclusive: Admissions overload 'risks schools playing the system'

The rise of academisation has caused an explosion in the number of admissions authorities. But funding to police the system has stalled

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The rise of academisation has caused an explosion in the number of admissions authorities. But funding to police the system has stalled

Experts have warned that a TES investigation, suggesting a major lack of resources for the official adjudicators overseeing school admissions, indicates that more schools will be able to “play the system” and “get away with it”.

Government figures show that the number of academies – which control their own admissions – rose from 203 in 2010 to 4,722 in 2015, amounting to a 2,226 per cent increase.

Yet TES has established that the amount of public money spent on the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) – which oversees England’s increasingly complex state school admissions system – has risen by less than 5 per cent in real terms over the same period.

The latest OSA report revealed that hundreds more schools were breaking admissions rules.

Alan Parker, a former schools adjudicator, told TES: “The overall result of changes in the system – academisation, increasing pressure to improve results at all costs, less effective controls on admissions – risks the erosion of moral behaviour as more people fall under increasing pressure to play the system and find it easier to get away with.”

He added that major cuts to local authority finances were also “making it difficult for them to [police admissions] proactively”.

Under pressure

Policing admissions is likely to become even more demanding if the government’s plans for a new wave of grammar schools go ahead. Ministers want new and existing grammars to provide a “proportion” of their places to “low-income households”, a plan likely to result in a controversial new set of school admissions rules to oversee.

Margaret Tulloch, from the anti-selection campaign group Comprehensive Future, said: “If there is any element of selection being introduced, it will mean more work for the adjudicator.”

Professor Anne West, a school admissions expert from the London School of Economics, said that the lack of resources for the OSA, and for councils, which are also supposed to police admissions, was a “major cause of concern”.

An OSA spokesperson said: “The chief schools adjudicator considers that the OSA has always had the administrative staff and capacity necessary to support the work of the adjudicators who deal with the cases referred to us.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “All schools must follow the school admissions code, which ensures school places are allocated fairly. All objections about admission arrangements – regardless of school type – are investigated by the adjudicator.”

This is an edited article from the 23 September edition of TES. Subscribers can read the full article here. To subscribe, click here. This week's TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click hereYou can also download the TES Reader app for Android and iOs.

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