An award-winning former headteacher is calling for a national inquiry into the underhand tactics he says many schools are using to select pupils.
Steve Taylor, who has nearly four decades of experience in teaching, has outlined a series of back-door admissions strategies he has personal knowledge of schools using. He believes a national review is needed to expose the lengths to which some heads go to avoid admitting potentially difficult pupils.
Mr Taylor provides accounts of schools’ subversion of their supposedly comprehensive admissions in a new book, The Scandal of Admissions in Our Secondary Schools. In it, he outlines how schools seek to persuade “difficult” families that their child would be better off elsewhere; use aptitude tests to make it harder for less privileged students to gain admission; and refuse places to pupils who are not academic enough or are considered to be too “challenging”.
The former head reveals that some academies in the Midlands and the North East have held aptitude tests for banded admissions on Saturday mornings as a way of filtering out certain families. More privileged parents are prepared to take their children to the weekend tests, he says, but those from more difficult backgrounds are not. “[These schools] are not breaking the law but their entry is massively skewed,” Mr Taylor told TES.
‘Bending the rules’
Mr Taylor, a former North East School Awards’ head of the year, says that other secondaries narrow their intake by persuading families to go to another school or by engineering a transfer of a challenging student.
One Yorkshire community school, with a predominantly Asian intake, sent a member of staff to the home of a difficult, white applicant and asked how he would fit into an Asian school, Mr Taylor writes. After the visit, the family withdrew its application.
He reveals that at one academy in Yorkshire, a deputy head deliberately got “into students’ faces” to make them retaliate. The deputy would then be sworn at, threatened or verbally abused, allowing the principal to look sympathetic by offering not to exclude the pupil if the parents sought a transfer.
Dame Sally Coates, director of secondary academies at the United Learning chain, called for an independent review of admissions earlier this year, warning that fair banding, aptitude tests and faith-related admissions were used for covert selection. This week she backed Mr Taylor’s warnings. “It is not a fair playing field if some schools are bending the rules,” Dame Sally told TES. “It needs tightening up and needs to be more transparent.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We expect all schools to have fair and transparent admissions arrangements. Where there is evidence this is not the case, parents and others should raise these concerns directly with the chief schools adjudicator.”
The Scandal of Admissions in Our Secondary Schools, by Steve Taylor, is due to be published later this year