School admissions are not being "adequately" scrutinised in some areas of the country and some local councils do not know whether arrangements are lawful, the annual report from the Office of Schools Adjudicator (OSA) has warned.
Shan Scott, the chief schools adjudicator for England, used her first report, released this morning, to highlight worrying gaps in the policing of England's increasingly fragmented and complicated school admissions system.
She has called on the DfE to emphasise to local authorities “the importance of scrutinising admission arrangements” after she found that more than 60 per cent of the cases where school admissions were queried were raised by just seven local authorities. Ms Scott is also concerned that some local authorities are unsure of whether school admissions in their area break the law.
“As the number of schools for which a local authority is not the admission authority grows, so does the importance and scale of this task," the report says. "It is concerning, therefore, that eight local authorities were not confident that the arrangements of all schools in their area were lawful.
“Moreover, the data shows that while 686 sets of admission arrangements were queried across 63 local authority areas, 414 of those queries were raised by just seven local authorities.
“I consider that it is likely that in some parts of the country local authorities do not scrutinise arrangements adequately.”
Ms Scott also raised a concern that the interests of vulnerable children needing a school place during an academic year “may not always be fully served”.
Local authorities had reported some instances where individual schools “seem to be less willing to admit [vulnerable] children” during the admissions process, she has said in the report, which covers 2015-16.
The chief schools adjudicator has called on the Department of Education (DfE) to consider whether to bring forward proposals for local authorities to have a duty to co-ordinate all in-year admissions.
Ms Scott said: “Some groups of vulnerable children (including asylum seekers, those with difficult family circumstances or returning to school having previously been excluded) may be more likely than others to need a school place outside the normal admission round.
“It seems that the system may not be quite so successful in meeting the needs of children here with the result that children spend more time out of school than they should.”
Ms Scott has also called for guidance to be published for multi-academy trusts (MATs) to ensure the way they determine admission arrangements is clearly set out.
And she called on the department to ensure that the selection of feeder schools does not cause “unfairness to other local children”.
The report says: “More objections this year have referred to the naming of feeder schools in oversubscription criteria.
"These have tended to be upheld where the selection of feeder schools, often at some distance from the school which has named them, has meant that children who live locally to the school who do not attend these feeder schools face a significantly longer or more difficult journey to alternative schools."
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We want parents to have the choice of a good local school so their children have the chance to fulfil their potential. There are almost 1.8 million more children in good or outstanding schools than in 2010 but we want to create more good school places in more parts of the country. We want to do this by lifting the ban on new grammars, and harnessing the resources and expertise of universities, faith schools and independent schools."
“This annual report will help us to identify how we can continue to improve the admissions framework to ensure fair access to school places for all children.”