Opt-out ambitions 'wreck' admissions

Government school admissions proposals will cause chaos, London local authorities fear. Neil Sears reports.

Government plans to manage the supply of school places could be wrecked By the expansionist policies of grant-maintained schools, London local authorities fear.

They say opted-out schools are already pursuing their own interests - often without regard to their neighbours. They believe that Government plans to make the schools - or their successors - work with and agree with local authorities are doomed.

Their fears surfaced at a meeting on the White Paper's admissions proposals which was organised by the Association of London Government.

Alan Cranston, a civil servant who manages the DFEE's school places division, said it would not have been fair to leave decisions about school organisation and the supply of places to education authorities.

Instead, decisions would be taken by new school organisation committees, formed with representatives of the local authority, parents, governors, Roman Catholic and Church of England diocese, and all admissions bodies in the area, including GM schools.

The local authority would submit plans to the committee - but any agreements would have to be unanimous. Disagreements would have to be resolved by regional adjudicators appointed by the Secretary of State.

"It is not clear how many of these adjudicators there will be," said Mr Cranston. "If you asked David Blunkett he might say about five. If you asked me I might say about 100. I'm really not sure."

Mr Cranston described the proposals as radical, but vital to ensure that decision-making on schools was devolved to local areas.

He added: "I do accept that what is proposed may be viewed as less than ideal, difficult and bureaucratic."

Hugh Malyan, Croydon education committee chairman, said that around half the schools in his area were grant-maintained, and that their fiercely competitive practices already made co-ordination difficult. He warned that when each of the schools is represented on the organisation committee, it would be impossible to reach a unanimous agreement.

And Norman Nunn-Price, an education committee member in Hillingdon, said that the situation was uncontrollable in his north London borough, which has 15 GM schools and just two local authority ones. "The schools do not co-ordinate their admissions," said Mr Nunn-Price. "The result is very long waiting lists and chaos. It takes months and months and appeals go on forever. When we have so many different admissions authorities sitting on the same committee, how is it possible to co-ordinate them?" Liz Graham, executive director of education in the London borough of Enfield, said admission problems were only likely to be solved if more faith was put in local authorities - and if action was taken to put limits on parental preference.

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