THE New Year brings the start of the admissions process. All parents have the right to say which school they would prefer their child to attend.
Most governors only have a role in commenting on admissions arrangements but it is important to understand how the process works.
* Admissions are handled by the school's admission authority. For community schools, this is usually the local education authority, but in foundation or voluntary-aided schools the governing body is usually responsible. These schools must have an admissions committee to handle their arrangements.
* The Department for Education and Employment's code of practice on admissions gives guidance on operating the framework that is set out in the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (see www.dfee.gov.uksacodeindex.htm).
* Each admission authority must consult school governing bodies and other authorities (including neighbouring ones), about its policies and each year's admissions numbers. Governing bodies should be aware of all consultations.
* Forums, set up by admission authorities to discuss local arrangements, should include representatives of governors and headteachers.
* Following consultations, the admissions authority sets a "standard" number and an "admissions" number for the school. The standard number is the legal minimum number of pupils the school can admit to the year-group ased on the capacity of the building. The admissions number cannot be lower than the standard number but may be higher. Both numbers need to take into account the restrictions on infant classes, which must not exceed 30 pupils.
* The admission authority must admit pupils up to the admissions number. The LEA can seek a direction from the Education Secretary if a governing body refuses to admit a particular pupil. However, governors have a right to an independent appeal if a child has previously been excluded from two or more schools.
* The education authority should publish its admissions arrangements to all consultees and parents; there is usually a separate prospectus. Schools need to publish their admissions number in their annual prospectus.
* Many primary schools still stagger admissions throughout the year. The legal requirement is for children to start school in the term following their fifth birthday. Prior to that, every child has an entitlement to three terms of funded nursery education with a provider of their parents' choice.
* All schools have the option - irrespective of status - to give priority to up to 10 per cent of children who can demonstrate an aptitude in a relevant subject where the school has a particular expertise or facility.
* Parents can appeal to an independent appeals panel - or appeals committee in a foundation or voluntary-aided school - if they are unsuccessful with their application.