Tories back off from 'first come first served' admissions policy

13th February 2009 at 00:00
Conservatives put aside independent sector-style 'birthright' system and say new academies would abide by current procedures

The conservative party has distanced itself from the controversial "first come, first served" schools admissions system in the state sector.

If adopted, the policy would allow parents to sign up their children for popular schools at birth - virtually guaranteeing them a place. This is the case in Sweden, from where the Tories have drawn inspiration for many of their proposed reforms.

The policy is widespread in independent schools in the UK, allowing generations of one family to attend the same school.

A Conservative spokesperson told The TES that there would be no change to how admissions are conducted in the state sector, and all new academies would "abide" by the current admissions code.

The first come, first served admissions system is very controversial and is particularly opposed by David Laws, the Liberal Democrats' education spokesman, who said it would hinder less ambitious parents.

"It may sound attractive in principle, but there is the risk that this will leave the children of less aspirational parents competing only for the least effective schools," Mr Laws said.

"We don't want a system where the best schools are full up 10 years in advance and nobody else can get in to them. The main challenge is to ensure that every community has access to one or more excellent schools," he added.

The Conservatives' education policy is heavily modelled on reforms that took place in Sweden in 1992. Independent schools there are given the same government funding per pupil as state schools, but act outside the state sector. The number of these so-called free schools has increased from 100 to 900 in little over a decade, and they have independent powers over admissions, enabling parents to choose a school - regardless of how far away it is - and put their child's name down for a place at birth.

Margaret Morrissey, of the Parents Outloud pressure group, said the idea of such an admissions policy would be "worrying".

"Before long we will have people who leave the maternity ward and go straight to their first choice school and put their child's name down," she said. "There is nothing good to come from this move, in my eyes.

"All it means is that those who are strongest, keenest and thriftiest will get their first choice," she added.

The Conservatives are keen to see the state's grip on schools loosened and are championing the academies programme. David Cameron, the party leader, recently said he would put "rocket boosters" under the initiative.

But the NASUWT believes planned changes set out by the Tories would destroy the state education service.

Chris Keates, the union's general secretary, said: "Under a Conservative government, individual schools apparently will be allowed to set their own admissions policies, devise their own curriculum and determine pay and conditions of the workforce. Charities and businesses will be able to set up schools.

"This is not only a recipe for chaos and confusion, it is a blueprint for the break up of the state education service."

Signed up for school

The first come, first served admissions policy is one of a multitude now operating in schools. The process allows parents to put their child's name down from birth at their preferred school, virtually guaranteeing them a place when they are old enough. The system is controversial as it can mean children from disadvantaged backgrounds could miss out on the best schools because their parents were not as socially ambitious.

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