Exclusive: Government examines reforms to school admissions system to improve social mobility

Department for Education officials are seeking the views of academics and thinktanks, amid calls for changes to the appeals process

Martin George

News article image

The government is actively considering overhauling the school admissions system as part of its efforts to improve social mobility, TES can reveal.

The disclosure comes as the government considers responses to its consultation on expanding grammar schools and the use of academic selection, and allowing faith free schools to select all their pupils by their faith.

Department for Education officials working on the government’s social mobility agenda have told academics and thinktanks they think there is a chance to reform the way children are currently admitted to schools.

The admissions system has grown increasingly complex as more schools have become academies, which are their own admissions authorities, leading to claims that some engineer their intake to reduce their number of disadvantaged pupils.

Last year, the DfE wanted to use the now-defunct Educational Excellence Everywhere White Paper to hand back oversight of admissions to local authorities, but was overruled by Downing Street.

A well-placed source said that, following the changes at the top of government, this proposal was now likely to be back on the table.

However, Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said he was against giving local authorities overall responsibility for admissions, although he wanted to see better coordination of the process.

Appeals process 'must be changed'

He also called for the school admissions appeals process to be reformed. “There needs to be a triage process where people have got to have a genuine reason to be able to appeal, and not just appeal because they are not happy with the decision," he said.

“This can add an inordinate amount of work for schools, and tie senior staff up at a very busy time of year.”

Other sources said options for admissions up for discussion are likely to include random ballots, drawing catchment areas to ensure schools have a good demographic spread, and banding, where pupils are placed in different ability bands in a bid to provide a comprehensive intake.

Anna Vignoles, professor of education at Cambridge University, said wealthier families were able to afford more expensive homes near to good schools, making distance a “key factor” explaining why better schools had fewer disadvantaged pupils.

She said that, theoretically, a random lottery would be the best way to break the link between proximity and school places, but this would be politically difficult, and banding “would be worth thinking about”.

She added: “Parents whose children do not get whichever school they perceive as their best school will remonstrate, and if you suddenly announce that proximity to a good school has no bearing on access, that’s likely to lead to changes in house prices, and that will affect non-parents, and that would have to be carefully handled.”

Want to keep up with the latest education news and opinion? Follow TES on Twitter and like TES on Facebook


Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Martin George

Martin George

Martin George is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @geomr

Latest stories

Leadership: how to turn a failing school around

How to turn a failing school around

Rebuilding a school's shattered reputation isn't easy - but focus on belonging, brilliant staff and behaviour and you'll get there, writes Chris Edwards
Chris Edwards 22 Oct 2021
Staff surveys can be key to help uncover what CPD will really have an impact

How to use surveys to focus staff development plans

Staff surveys can be great for uncovering what teachers really want - but you need to ensure they ask the right questions and the insights are properly understood. Here's how you can do just that
Chris Lindop 22 Oct 2021