'Free schools' charity shows support for admissions lotteries

5th February 2010 at 00:00
Network consults on simpler and first-come-first-served system for new independent state schools

A charity with close Conservative links - set up to support the creation of the party's planned new state-funded independent schools - is considering backing controversial admissions lotteries.

The New Schools Network revealed this week that it was consulting on how the current existing admissions code could be simplified for new independent state schools.

The TES has learnt it is also looking at first-come-first-served admissions and may consider an end to the bans on admissions interviews and requests for parental contributions.

Rachel Wolf, director of the charity, said admissions lotteries had been used for US charter schools where they were seen as "fair and popular".

When local authorities in England have used school admissions lotteries giving all applicants the same chance, they have been attacked in the national press and faced severe criticism from local parents.

But Ms Wolf, a former adviser to Michael Gove, Conservative shadow schools secretary, said there was a difference between that and a new school using a lottery.

"Parents would have an extra choice that they didn't have before," she said. "So the worst that would happen (if they failed to be selected in a lottery) is that they would be in the same position they would have been anyway; it wouldn't get worse."

The anti-selection lobby is likely to welcome the news and Ms Wolf's pledge that: "We would never promote anything that would prevent or risk preventing the most deprived families from accessing the best schools."

But they will be alarmed that the charity is considering "first-come-first-served" admissions.

Ms Wolf said it had been inspired by the use of the policy in Swedish free schools, but admitted that it could give an advantage to the children of more "engaged" middle-class families.

Asked by The TES whether the network would look at an end to the current ban on admissions interviews and requests for parental contributions, she said "possibly".

This week the charity published a "model application form" for groups wanting to set up the new schools envisaged by the Conservatives.

The document includes a proposal for cutting a link between academies and local authorities by removing the requirement for academy advisory bodies to include council, teacher and pupil representatives.

Ms Wolf said it should be up to the school to decide how to build community links.

"Academies are often opened in areas where the local authority has not run schools successfully and this enforced link just doesn't make sense," she said.

The charity says it has had interest from about 350 groups wanting to open new state-funded independent schools.

It also published this week what it described as a summary of some of the best-known studies into the Swedish free schools, US charter schools and English academies that have inspired Conservative policy.

It defends academies against the charge that they have higher exclusion rates, pointing out that they serve more deprived areas.

However, latest figures show academies make 4.7 permanent exclusions for every 1,000 pupils compared with 2.1 in other English secondaries.

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