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Proposed free school flouted admission rules

Canary Wharf College offered places on banned 'first-come, first-served' basis

Canary Wharf College offered places on banned 'first-come, first-served' basis

A proposed free school in east London, which has been given initial approval by the Government, has flouted the school admissions code by offering places on a "first-come, first-served" basis, The TES can reveal.

Canary Wharf College in Tower Hamlets is one of 31 schools to have put forward applications awaiting final sign-off by the Department for Education.

Official applications policy states that parents hoping to enrol their children at the east London school this September - if it is given the green light by the DfE - will be allocated a place by a mixture of the first names on the list and applicants' postcodes.

Offering places to pupils on a first-come, first-served basis is banned under the school admissions code.

But an early statement on the Canary Wharf College website says: "In the first year of opening, we are accepting children on a mixture of first-come, first-served basis and postcode."

The school will be a primary and have a Christian ethos, which means, in the event of oversubscription, it can take up to 50 per cent of pupils on a Christian basis.

Speaking to The TES this week, principal designate Sarah Counter said she ended the inital first- come, first-served policy when she realised it was unfair.

"The period of time when we were accepting people on a first-come, first-served basis was very short," she said. "I very quickly put a stop to it. There are only a few that will come under first-come, first-served in the first year."

"But we have not been approved by the DfE yet, so they may ask us to rethink our admission criteria. So if we have to do it all over again, then we will. "

It is highly unlikely that education secretary Michael Gove will agree to the school's arrangements.

The incident highlights growing concern among teachers' leaders and fair admissions campaigners, who believe that empowering free schools and academies to act as their own admissions authorities will lead to greater social selection.

Fiona Millar, chair of Comprehensive Future, which campaigns for fairer admissions, said: "What Michael Gove seems to be doing is promoting semi-selection," she said. "I predict the code will be weakened under the guise of simplification.

"This will create chaos and eventually more and more parents will complain. It's just a great shame that we have to go through all of this to get back to the point we're currently at."

Association of Teachers and Lecturers general secretary Mary Bousted believes there is very little local authorities can do to prevent schools breaking the rules.

"The new Education Bill means the local education authority can't stop a school deciding its own admissions criteria. So how will the code be enforced?"

The DfE said it was unable to comment on individual free school applications, but a spokesperson said that the school admissions code has the "force of law and is binding on local authorities, schools adjudicators and admission authorities", adding "academies - and, therefore, free schools as they are, by law, academies - must comply with it."

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