18. The 1944 Education Act established the need for
local authorities to have regard to the wishes of parents. The
Act secured for parents the right to express a preference for
particular schools and a responsibility for local authorities
to take this preference into account when allocating school places.
The Act stated: that "the Minister and local education authorities
shall have regard to the general principle that, so far as is
compatible with the provisions of efficient instruction and training
and the avoidance of unreasonable public expenditure, pupils are
to be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents."
Section 9 of the Education Act 1996 continues this commitment.
19. The 1980 Education Act enabled parents' right
of appeal against non-admission and the 1988 Education Reform
Act brought the concept of open-enrolment, extending nation-wide
the scope of parental preference to schools beyond the boundaries
of their home LEA and preventing schools from rejecting pupils
unless they are full to capacity.
The 1988 Act also introduced further differentiation in school
governance through the creation of grant-maintained status.
Grant-maintained schools, like voluntary aided schools, were permitted
to manage their own admission arrangements and were not required
to limit these arrangements to the principles and procedures adopted
by LEAs. The creation of grant maintained status led to an increase
in the number of schools controlling their own admission arrangements.
This enabled those schools to set admissions arrangements that
reflected decisions about the applicants they preferred to admit
and represented a significant increase in the complexity of the
admissions system experienced by parents.
Labour's 1997 election manifesto commitment on
20. Approaching the 1997 election the Labour Party
identified education as its first priority. The Labour manifesto
for the 1997 election highlighted two key themes relating to secondary
education: limiting selection and extending parental choice through
diversity of provision.
21. Central to the party's vision for secondary education
under a Labour government was the modernisation of the comprehensive
model for education and a pledge to limit selection. David Blunkett
MP, the then shadow Education Secretary told the 1995 Labour Party
conference "read my lips: no [more] selection, either by
examination or interview, under a Labour government."
22. The manifesto also affirmed parents' centrality
to education policy with the promise that "any changes in
the admissions policies of grammar schools will be decided by
and that "all parents should be offered real choice
through good quality schools, each with its own strengths and
In this way the Labour Party, in opposition, set its education
agenda for government: diversity and choice.
Government policy since 1997
23. Once established in Government Labour set about
creating the legislative framework for the reform it had envisioned.
The 1998 School Standards and Framework Act included three major
developments in school admissions policy:
a) A duty on the Secretary of State to publish
a code of practice on school admissions
b) The creation of the Office of the Schools
c) The introduction of parental ballots on the
future of grammar schools.
24. The 2001 education White Paper Schools achieving
success made much of the value of diversity and of the link
between diversity and choice in the battle to improve standards
of attainment. The then Secretary of State, Rt. Hon. Estelle Morris
MP told the Social Market Foundation that "this greater diversity
is good for pupils and parents and will ensure there is more choice
and innovation in the school system."
The Government's policy of encouraging greater diversity in the
governance of secondary schools and in the ethos and experience
available in secondary education has accentuated the differences
between schools. This has given ever greater emphasis to the role
of choice and preference in the allocation of school places. Our
report on Diversity of Provision
in secondary education picked up many of these themes and provided
the foundation for the commentary and conclusions in this report.
25. The Education Act 2002 introduced further requirements
on the organisation of school admissions. Provisions in the Act
a) The requirement for LEAs to coordinate admissions
within and across their boundaries,
b) A statutory requirement for each LEA to set
up an admissions forum (previously a voluntary arrangement).
The Government's aims for school admissions
26. The Government has most recently set out its
aspirations for school admissions arrangements in the revised
School Admissions Code of Practice.
In the introduction to the current Code the Rt. Hon. Charles Clarke
MP, Secretary of State for Education and Skills, articulates the
"We are committed to raising standards in our
schools and to offering a diverse, high quality education, based
on the needs of the child. We know that our framework for admissions,
introduced in the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, is
generally working well and that the vast majority of parents gain
a place for their child at a school for which they have expressed
a preference. It will not always be possible for every parent
to get a place at their preferred school, but we want this for
as many parents as possible.
This Admissions Code of Practice is about making
the admissions system more open and fair and the admissions process
In order to improve the admissions framework
for the benefit of parents and children, we introduced a number
of important changes in the Education Act 2002. This Code of Practice
takes account of those changes, and of associated regulations.
The 2002 Act made Admission Forums mandatory, to
promote local discussion between all those with an interest in
admissions. Forums will have an important advisory role. They
will consider how well admission arrangements serve the interests
of local parents and children
They will aim to reach local
consensus on how best to meet the needs of all those seeking a
place in their area, so that all pupils have a fair opportunity
to realise their potential.
We want to make the admissions process easier for
parents and children by enabling parents in an area to express
all their school preferences at once on one form, by reducing
multiple offers of places for some children while others have
no offer at all
We took the opportunity in the 2002 Act to clarify
the law on parental preference, so that it is clear that admission
authorities must consider any preference expressed by a parent
and comply with that preference unless certain reliefs apply.
The new law on admissions, and the guidance in this
Code, build on existing best practice. They are about making school
admissions fairer for all parents, and improving admission processes
parents often find stressful. Our aim is more co-ordination and
co-operation between admission authorities, to produce admission
systems parents will find simpler and more streamlined, and a
better deal for all."
27. We support the Government's objective that
parents' preferences for schools of their choice be met to the
maximum extent possible, and their recognition that this cannot
be achieved without increasing the quality of provision. Concern
over admissions would be less were there more schools which command
the confidence of parents.
28. We support the Government's aims: for greater
fairness, coordination and parental preference in the allocation
of school places. However, the Government's attempt to realise
these aims through a system based on guidance rather than regulation
means that the Government can have had no assurance that its objectives
would be widely met. This is disappointing. Fairness in public
policy should not be a matter of luck but a matter of course.