The Government's planned changes to the admissions code will lead to more schools breaking the law by selecting their pupils, classroom leaders and campaigners for fair school access said this week.
Earlier this year, ministers published a draft of the slimmed-down code that would allow popular schools to expand the number of places they can offer to pupils. It also set out plans to give children of school staff priority over other local families if a school is oversubscribed, to make it easier for schools to attract and recruit staff.
The deadline for responses to the Government's consultation on the code is today and teaching unions and pressure groups have branded the new, shorter code "weaker" than the current rules. The rise of free schools and academies, which act as their own admissions authorities, means more schools will be able to flout regulations, they added.
Mary Bousted, general secretary of teaching union the ATL, said academies and free schools would also be capable of setting up their own admissions appeals panels.
"I have been asking the question time and time again: who will be policing the code?" she said. "Because a code is useless unless it is policed properly.
"If a school can be their own admissions authority and their own police then the admissions code will be worthless. We know there are schools that are breaking the law and these changes will lead to more schools being able to break the law."
Dr Bousted's concerns were echoed by Comprehensive Future, a pressure group that campaigns for fairer access into schools. Its secretary Margaret Tulloch said: "Unless there is very effective scrutiny and monitoring it is likely that as more schools become admission authorities, covert selection and segregation will increase.
"Effective scrutiny becomes less likely if admission forums disappear, school adjudicators' powers are reduced and local authorities do not use the powers they have to make sure everyone follows the rules. If this happens, many parents will lose out."
In its response, teaching union the NASUWT said the current admissions code was only introduced in February 2009 and added that introducing a new code was politically motivated.
The NASUWT stated: "It is clear the decision to revise the code is not driven by an objectively identified need to address problems with the admissions process, but is more to do with seeking to support its wider policy agenda to enable individual schools to be more selective in their intake."
A DfE spokesman said: "The new admissions process will be more open than ever before. The draft codes will allow anyone to object to admissions arrangements they believe are unfair. Currently, only a very restricted list of people can do so.
"Local people must be able to hold councillors, schools and officials to account for their decisions - the changes will do that, increase transparency around school admissions and strengthen the procedure."
- Increase the number of places in popular schools.
- Improve in-year applications scheme so fewer children face delays in finding a new school.
- Give priority to children of school staff when a school is oversubscribed.
- Allow children from armed forces families into infant classes over the legal 30-child limit.
- Allow twins into infant classes over the 30-child limit.