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

11th January 2017 at 14:30
Department for Education officials are seeking the views of academics and thinktanks, amid calls for changes to the appeals process

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.”

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