Agenda

1st August 2003 at 01:00
Answers governors' questions

I am chair of governors at a comprehensive school. We are concerned about the enforced admission of pupils from other schools, where the LEA has "consulted" us but ignored our decision that any admission was inappropriate. In two cases we believed that because of existing problems in the year groups concerned, accepting these pupils (one excluded from a neighbouring school, one from a special school) would be inconsistent with our duty to all the students. Who controls admissions to schools?

As a governor of a comprehensive school, I understand your feelings. It is difficult, especially perhaps when a child with behavioural difficulties has been educated in a special school at primary stage and is judged suitable for mainstream education at secondary age. Many have these concerns.

In a community school the LEA is responsible for first admissions based on a policy on which governors have been consulted. Subsequent individual admissions (for example, children moving to the area or voluntarily changing schools) are up to the governors, bearing in mind the principles underlying the policy.

But when a pupil has been permanently excluded from one school, the issue of where he or she goes is outside the control of the LEA, never mind the governors, because parental choice still applies. If the school has room, the governors and the LEA have to admit the pupil. This is the guidance given to all LEAs, and reflects government policy.

After two permanent exclusions, parents forfeit their right of choice and the LEA decides on the placement, taking into account such factors as spaces available, the school's distance from home, and the child's needs.

These are also considerations in transfers from special schools.

Some LEAs have used informal committees of governors and heads to advise on these policies and, in particular, to make sure schools that have spare places do not suffer unduly. They also make sure that, as far as possible, there is fair play between schools.

I do not know if the new admissions forums will eventually look at these difficult questions as their role develops, but schools that are not full are vulnerable to some degree.

The latest edition of the DfES admissions code indicates that a community school may, in certain circumstances, appeal to the LEA against the admission of a pupil with challenging behaviour who has been permanently excluded from two or more schools. For instance, this applies if the school is failing, in special measures, recently released from special measures, the subject of a warning letter from Ofsted or has less than 25 per cent of pupils gaining five or more A to C passes at GCSE. It is intended to help schools which may have more than the average proportion of pupils with challenging behaviour. The LEA may ask the Education Secretary to adjudicate in such appeals.

The TES welcomes your queries. Joan Sallis does her best to answer all letters, but please keep requests for private replies to a minimum, as we aim to provide helpful information for all readers and always protect the identity of schools and individuals. Questions should be sent to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX; fax: 020 7782 3202 3205, or see www.tes.co.ukgovernorsask_the_expert

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