Commentary - Don't rely on pupil premium alone

3rd December 2010 at 00:00

School admissions is an issue that will not go away. More schools than ever before will be responsible for their own admissions - both newly converted academies and new "free" schools. There will be even more need for parents and carers to have accessible information about schools' admissions policies and for oversubscription criteria to be not only clear, objective and fair, but also simple and easy to understand.

Over the past decade, successive admissions codes have provided guidance to admission authorities. Notably, at the same time as legislation and regulations have been tightened, school segregation across England has declined1.

It is significant that the most recent codes have mandatory requirements detailing what admission authorities must and must not do (eg they must give highest priority to children in care).

Parents need to be confident that their application will be dealt with fairly by the admission authority: common procedures for the administration of admissions - with an independent body carrying out the allocation of places on behalf of schools - would increase confidence in the fairness of the system.

A common procedure would also mean that objections to admissions relating to all school types would be made to the schools adjudicator instead of, as at present, objections relating to academies being made to the secretary of state. Further, making available possible "model" admissions policies and oversubscription criteria would mean that the process of making preferences would be more straightforward for all parents.

The coalition Government is committed to enhancing social mobility. To increase the likelihood of disadvantaged children applying to and gaining access to a wider range of schools, schools could be allowed to give priority to a proportion of children from disadvantaged backgrounds although it is not clear how many schools - except those that felt they had a moral obligation to do so - would take up this option.

The Government may instead rely entirely on the pupil premium to encourage schools to attract disadvantaged pupils. Whether the incentive will be sufficient will depend on the size of the premium, especially given the move towards a national funding formula, which appears likely to benefit schools in more prosperous areas at the expense of those in more disadvantaged areas.

Anne West is professor of education policy at the London School of Economics

1 Allen, R., Coldron, J. and West, A. (2010) The effect of changes in published secondary school admissions on pupil composition, London: DfE.

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