Teachers' kids go to front of admissions queue

Controversial new `family-friendly' code will give staff advantage at oversubscribed schools

Stephen Exley

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Teachers will be given the right to jump the queue in the battle to secure places at oversubscribed schools, the Government will reveal today.

The draft of the new admissions code, due to be published today, proposes that all schools be allowed to prioritise the children of employees, The TES has learnt.

Schools would even have the discretion to give preference to non-teaching staff such as cleaners and cooks.

The long-awaited new code, which is being trailed as a complete overhaul of the system, is believed to contain other controversial reforms, including allowing popular schools to grow student numbers at the expense of other less-successful schools.

The Department for Education hopes the move to scrap the restrictions, in place since 2007, on allowing admissions officers to prioritise their colleagues' children will help schools' recruitment, with the "family- friendly" move designed to make life easier for parent teachers.

But it is understood that leading figures in the teaching unions are concerned that teachers could be perceived to be taking places away from local children and those with difficult family circumstances.

The draft code says: "Given the importance that this Government places on the need to put our trust in schools, we believe this restriction leads to some schools losing out on potentially very valuable members of staff as they seek to balance work and life as a parent.

"Therefore, we propose to allow children of staff at the school to be included as an oversubscription criterion.

"If admission authorities wish to use this permissive criterion, then it would be for them to define what they mean by `staff' and whether it was to cover teaching or non-teaching staff, including those undertaking tasks such as catering and cleaning."

Research by admissions expert Professor Anne West, from the London School of Economics, revealed that, in 2001, 9 per cent of schools gave priority to their employees' children.

Since the first admissions code of practice was introduced in 1999, which warned admissions authorities to ensure their policies promoted equal opportunities, 94 objections relating to schools prioritising the children of their staff have been lodged with the Office of the School Adjudicator, of which 83 were fully or partially upheld.

The 2007 code made it explicit that schools must not give priority to the children of staff unless there was a "demonstrable skill shortage".

The DfE argues the new admissions code will "reduce the burdens and bureaucracy that schools face by removing unnecessary prescription that makes the process complex and costly".

The code will also ease "bureaucratic" restrictions on successful schools raising their planned admissions numbers, in order to make it easier for them to take on extra pupils.

Education secretary Michael Gove said this would put pressure on underperforming schools to improve.

"We hope the new admissions code allows possibility of increasing planned admissions numbers so good schools can expand, and there will be under- performing schools that have fewer and fewer numbers.

"That will compel their leadership and the local authority to ask: `what's wrong'? I think it's wrong to have a situation where local authority says `this is a good school, it's full up', and parents have to go to the less good school down the road," he said.

Mr Gove also pledged to give the school adjudicator "more teeth" to deal with complaints about admissions. Anyone will be able to make a complaint, rather than just "relevant" people with connections to a particular school, as at present, Mr Gove added.

"Our aim is to allow good schools to expand, but also to have a strong adjudicator who is in a position to investigate and clamp down.

"For me the most important thing is that he has the capacity to say sorry this isn't compliant with the code. Giving him or her that watchdog function means we're in a stronger position."

Original headline: Teachers' children will go to front of admissions queue

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Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley is a freelance writer, director of external affairs at Villiers Park Educational Trust and former FE editor at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @stephenexley

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