Teachers decline to join in queue jumping

21st October 2011 at 01:00
Unions spurn admissions plan to give children of staff priority

If you can't please all of the people all of the time, you might hope to at least please some of the people some of the time. But with teachers, civil servants could be forgiven for wondering what they have to do in order to please anyone at all.

Indeed, school staff appear to be preparing to reject one of the key changes proposed for the latest incarnation of the admissions code, which would have given schools the right to give priority to the children of their teachers.

The current policy - preventing them from introducing this oversubscription criterion - "leads to some schools losing out on potentially very valuable members of staff as they seek to balance work and life as a parent", the Department for Education claims.

Against a backdrop of industrial unrest over changes to teachers' pensions, ministers assumed a family-friendly policy that would make life easier for teachers must be a good thing for everyone. Unfortunately for them, teachers don't seem to agree.

The classroom unions believe the proposal should be omitted from the final draft of the code.

"It's nice that the Government is thinking about the work-life balance issue, but bringing in a sop for teachers doesn't really work," said Nansi Ellis, head of education policy and research at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL).

One concern is that individual schools would have the power to decide which staff the rule would apply to. It could be just teachers; it could be all staff, from midday supervisors to caretakers. "ATL is strongly opposed to admission authorities determining their own definitions of 'staff' which can be divisive, segregate staff by job responsibilities, and lead to contractual inequalities and low morale," the union's submission to the consultation on the changes stated.

Before the practice was prohibited in 2007, 94 objections were lodged with the schools adjudicator about the children of staff being given priority for a school place; 83 of the complaints were at least partially upheld.

At present, teachers' children can only be prioritised if there is a "demonstrable skill shortage"- if there are serious difficulties in recruiting teachers at the school.

"If large groups of staff take up this opportunity, then this will result in a skewed and unbalanced intake," the NUT's submission to the admissions code consultation argues. "'Jumping the queue' in this way will be perceived as unjust by the wider school community. Staff will be perceived as taking places away from local children and from those children with difficult family circumstances, potentially damaging parent-teacher relationships."

The unions also suspect the proposal is geared more towards parents setting up free schools - meaning they would be able to guarantee their own children a place - than the rest of the teaching profession. According to the NASUWT, the changes merely serve the Government's wider policy agenda, particularly in giving schools with their own admissions authority, such as academies, even freer reign over their arrangements. "The reality is that the changes to the current code will allow more and more schools to sit outside any statutory or regulatory process and set their own admissions policy," general secretary Chris Keates said.

The unions have also raised fears about parents looking for jobs in schools purely because they want to send their children there. At a hearing of the Commons education select committee last week, the Sutton Trust's research director Dr Lee Elliot Major said he shared their concerns. "An unintended consequence could be that there would be a large disincentive for teachers to go to more challenging schools," he said.

"It could be quite divisive," Ms Ellis said. "You could be looking at staff working in a particular school, just to get their children in there. It's a clumsy way of trying to sort out the work-life balance."

At the select committee, the lone voice in support of the proposals came from Rob McDonough, head of West Bridgford School in Nottingham; it would be "very, very helpful in terms of recruitment and retention", he argued.

Ministers would be quick to agree. The classroom unions, it seems, would beg to differ. The final version of the code is expected to be published next month; teachers do not have long to wait to find out which side will get its way.

CODE PROPOSALS

Allow popular schools to increase pupil numbers.

Improve in-year applications scheme so fewer children face delays in finding a new school.

Give priority to children of school staff when a school is oversubscribed.

Allow children from armed forces families into infant classes over the legal 30-child limit.

Allow twins into infant classes over the 30-child limit.

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