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Too many schools are breaking admissions rules, chief adjudicator warns

Too many schools are flouting admissions rules and local authorities are often failing to carry out adequate checks, the chief schools adjudicator warned today.

Schools that control their own admissions, such as academies, “often” ask parents questions banned under the statutory admissions code. They are also failing to publish and consult on their admissions arrangements, according to the latest annual report from the Office of the Schools Adjudicator.

It covers 2013-14, an academic year when hundreds of state schools became academies and gained control over admissions. The report by Dr Elizabeth Passmore details “a very busy year” with an increase of more than two-thirds in the number of new admissions cases.

It reveals that half of local authorities have “worries” about fraudulent admission applications from parents. The report warns that too many schools that set their own admissions are failing to make the necessary information properly available to parents.

“Anyone looking for admission arrangements on a school’s website may have to hunt very carefully to find where the arrangements may be located,” it states. “In some cases, despite extensive searching of a school’s website, no relevant arrangements can be found.”

Consultations about changes to admissions are also found to be inadequate in “too many” schools, despite the problem being raised in the previous year’s report.

“It is not sufficient to say that the arrangements were posted on the school’s or another website, or parents of children at the school were given a letter, as it is not just those parents but also the prospective parents for the following year…who need to be alerted,” the report says.

Unnecessarily complex admission arrangements are highlighted as another “continuing” problem. The report also says that popular schools using banded admission systems are placing a “hurdle” in front of parents because pupils are required to sit an ability test.

The report suggests that some schools with a religious character are breaking a rule that requires any faith-based admission criteria to be easily understood by parents.

Instead they are using “faith requirements that are extensive and require a parent to be well organised and study the arrangements carefully, sometimes several years before applying for a place, to ensure that their child will have a realistic chance of gaining a place at the school”.

Margaret Tulloch of the Comprehensive Future campaign group said: “Admissions are becoming a free-for-all relying on complaints to the adjudicator to bring about fairness. We need a simpler, fairer system on which parents can rely.”

Local authorities are supposed to provide the first checks on school admission policies, but adjudicators “remain concerned” that too many breaches are occurring and remain unreported.

Councils must make their own annual reports to adjudicators. For 2013-14 they have documented “continuing difficulty in providing sufficient primary places”, academies with “unacceptable admission procedures”, and new free schools that are making it difficult to plan places.

Other problems raised in Dr Passmore's report include frequent breaches of the admissions code by school sixth forms and primaries giving “unfair” priority to children who have attended a particular nursery. 

A DfE spokesperson said: “The system appears to be working well with objections this year equating to just 1.3% of all state funded schools, but we are not complacent and recently published a streamlined admissions code to make arrangements even clearer for schools and parents.

 “Our plan for education is designed to ensure every child is able to go to a good local school. The Chief Adjudicator has a vital role to play in delivering this aim.”

Related stories:

School admissions are 'bewildering' to parents, report claims – 2 June 2014

Lotteries should decide secondary school admissions, parents say – 11 September 2014

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