The wait goes on for new admissions code

13th May 2011 at 01:00
Campaigners fear that further delays to revised rules could prevent them receiving proper scrutiny by MPs

Schools and local authorities are still in the dark about when the Government's long-awaited new admissions code will be published.

The schools white paper, released last November, said the Department for Education would begin consulting on a "simplified and less prescriptive admissions code early in the new year so that a revised code is in place by July 2011".

The first delay was revealed when a policy statement submitted to the Education Bill committee admitted that the public consultation would run from March to June this year, with the finalised code completed by January 2012.

But there is still no sign of a draft of the new document, which offers guidance to councils and schools on admissions procedures, and the DfE has refused to confirm when the consultation is now expected to start.

At the NASUWT conference in Glasgow last month, schools minister Nick Gibb told The TES: "There's a lot of work, and we're just making sure it's absolutely right."

But Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the consultation may have been delayed by the complexity of the process of streamlining the code.

"We have been told that (the new version) will simplify the wording of the code, but I guess that's probably proving more difficult than it may have seemed," he said.

Fiona Millar, chairman of fair admissions campaign Comprehensive Future, said the delays meant the changes would not receive proper parliamentary scrutiny.

"It should have been done earlier. It's too late for schools to change their codes for this September ... But I think what's more significant is that discussing the Education Bill (in Parliament at present) ought to be informed by what is in the code, especially as there will be more academies and free schools (which control their own admissions).

"If the MPs don't know how these schools are going to be forced to apply the code, I don't see how they will be able to make a judgment."

Shadow education secretary Andy Burnham has also waded into the row, which he described as a "flagship issue" for Labour, warning that slimming down the code could allow academies to introduce "selection by the back door".

"Schools, when they are converting to academy status, are becoming increasingly particular about feeder primaries and catchment areas, with one eye on the English Baccalaureate," he said.

"It is selection through the back door. We will seek to reinstate local admissions forums so that schools collaborate rather than each becoming judge and jury."

Mr Burnham also said he will oppose the move to reduce the scope of schools adjudicator Ian Craig's powers.

The Education Bill would allow Mr Craig to deal with specific complaints only. He currently has the power to change arrangements if schools fail to comply with the admissions code, but if the bill becomes law he would only be able to recommend changes.

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