Welcome one and all - as long as you're the right sort
"Every child should have the choice to go to an excellent local school," education secretary Michael Gove said this autumn, as he announced a second wave of free schools.
But only a year after the first batch of free schools opened, it has emerged that not every child is getting that choice. Five of the 24 free schools that opened in 2011 have already been found to have been in breach of the School Admissions Code.
The embarrassment for the free school movement follows the revelation last week that the number of objections to schools' admissions policies submitted to the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) in 2011-12 was up by almost a quarter on the previous year.
Chief adjudicator Elizabeth Passmore criticised school sixth forms for having admissions policies that favoured current students above applicants from other schools.
Dr Passmore also warned that local authorities are concerned that it may prove difficult to create extra secondary-school places if academies - which are responsible for their own admissions - do not want to expand.
Of the five free schools found to be in breach of the code, the Maharishi Free School in Lancashire, where pupils are expected to learn transcendental meditation (TM), was censured for wrongly prioritising places for pupils who had attended specified fee-paying schools that use meditation. The school also breached the code by implying that at least one of each pupil's parents should learn TM.
Another of the free schools, the Priors School in Warwickshire, was criticised last month for claiming that places for children with a special educational needs statement were "dependent on the school having sufficient resources available". The code specifies that children with a statement naming the school must be given a place.
Alison Ryan, policy adviser at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said there was a risk of widespread "ignorance" among free schools about their responsibilities. "There could be more schools that are flouting the code, but are not being complained about," she said.
"There is also concern there could be deliberate flouting. Governors should know the admissions code and schools should follow it."
Langley Hall Primary Academy in Berkshire was found to have wrongly given priority to children who attended a fee-paying nursery on site, while Barnfield Moorlands Free School in Luton was censured for late publication of its admissions policy.
The other free school that breached the code was the West London Free School set up by journalist Toby Young. The school allocates 10 per cent of places by musical aptitude but had failed to tell parents they would get the results before the general admissions deadline. It also breached the code by asking for a copy of applicants' birth certificates before they were offered a place.
Margaret Tulloch, secretary of the Comprehensive Future campaign for fair admissions, said: "The schools are all supposed to abide by the admissions code, but it seems that the only way breaches come to light are when people go to the trouble of complaining."
In her first annual report as chief adjudicator, Dr Passmore revealed the number of objections to schools' admissions arrangements for 2011-12 was 156, up from 127 the previous year.
She also criticised the "unacceptable" failure by schools and local authorities to publish their admissions policies online by 1 May. Of 50 websites the OSA checked, only 14 had complied.
BY THEIR OWN ADMISSION
24 free schools opened in 2011
5 have breached the School Admissions Code
Overall objections to school admissions policies