THE GOVERNMENT wants popular schools to take their fair share of potentially disruptive children, writes Clare Dean.
It believes schools with empty places have an unfairly high proportion of excluded pupils - whom they are obliged to admit.
Meanwhile, other heads can avoid these children because their classes are oversubscribed.
Education ministers now say it would be "highly desirable" for headteachers and councils to agree strategies for all schools to shoulder the burden.
Their plea is contained in a new code of practice on admissions which says it is unacceptable for a school to refuse to admit a potentially disruptive child on the grounds they ought to be assessed for special needs.
"Admission authorities should not make subjective judgments as to the suitability of certain children for the school," the code says. But it is unclear how such aims could be legally delivered. Martin Rogers, from Education Network, a state-school pressure group, said: "It is all very well to say things like this but there is no mechanism for doing it."
The code of practice underpins the Government's new system of admissions for primary and secondary schools to take effect from September 2000.
Local authorities will have a statutory duty to consult on admissions. Adjudicators will resolve local disputes and there will be admissions forums and a limit on infant-class sizes.
Ministers want admissions to be as simple as possible and the code requires councils to publish clear, straightforward information on the arrangements for all schools in their area. Voluntary-aided and foundation (ex-grant-maintained) schools will remain responsible for their own admissions.
Interviews for places will be banned except in boarding schools and church schools which may do so only to assess religious and denominational commitment.
The criteria by which oversubscribed schools will admit pupils include whether a child had sibling at the school, distance from home, access to public transport, medical or social grounds, transfer from named feeder schools and parents' ranking of preference.
In a new move councils will have to make clear the order of priority in which the criteria are applied, and how any tie-break decisions will be made.
The code urges councils to consider, with other admissions authorities, co-ordinated admissions arrangements for GM and VA schools including standard application forms and common timetables.
ADMISSIONS KEY ROLE FOR SIR PETER
l SIR Peter Newsam, the former director of the Institute of Education at London University, is to play a key role in shaping the new school framework as the lead adjudicator for school organisation and admissions issues.
Other adjudicators, who will intervene in local disputes, will be appointed later this month. They will be independent of government.
Sir Peter was education officer to the Inner London Education Authority.
The latest government statistics on admission appeals record a 16 per cent rise from 62,900 to 72,700 in 1996-97 for all schools. Under 20,000 were successful. The adjudicator will be brought into disputes about the admission arrangements for grammar schools, but will not be able to consider the principle that they can select pupils on the basis of high academic ability.