Memorandum submitted by Comprehensive
Comprehensive Future welcomes the
many references made to fair admissions in the White Paper. Comprehensive
Future wants what the vast majority of parents wantall
parents having access to a good local school. The White Paper
should be judged on the extent to which its provisions make this
aim more or less likely to be realised.
Comprehensive Future believes that
unless there is a clear division of responsibilities for admissions
between schools, local bodies and central government, backed up
by legislative changes, provisions in the White Paper are likely
to lead to fragmentation on a grand scale. This will make the
possibility of achieving a system of fair admissions even more
remote than now.
A fairer system of administration
of admissions should be brought about by:
1. Removing the right of any schools to set
their own oversubscription criteria.
2. Strengthening the admissions forums by
ensuring that they decide the oversubscription criteria for each
school based on those recommended in a new Code of Practice.
3. Giving the responsibility for the administration
of admissions to all local schools to the local authority.
The White Paper has the potential
to allow a huge increase in the number of children facing selective
entry tests for secondary education. There are many reasons to
end selection on aptitude. It should be ended now.
It is completely disingenuous for
the White Paper to promise "no return to the 11-plus"
ignoring the thousands of English children who face it every year.
There will be no change in England under present arrangements.
The 11-plus is being phased out by Government action in Northern
Ireland without petitions and ballots, it should be phased out
There is a major weakness in that
Government policy on fair admissions, reflected again in White
Paper, in that it relies heavily on those able to make objections
doing so. Fair admissions must be required from the outset. Unfair
practices do not become fair if there is no objection.
1. Comprehensive Future was founded in 2003
to support comprehensive education. Its aim is a comprehensive
secondary school system throughout England, with fair admissions
criteria to all publicly funded schools, guaranteeing an equal
chance to all children and an end to selection by ability and
2. Admissions legislation must operate in
the interests of all children and their education, not in the
interests of institutions keeping their place in what has become
a pecking order of schools. Children matter. The Government has
recognised this in its Every Child Matters agenda The recent
Annual report of the schools adjudicator, drew attention to this.
It said Schools need to be reminded that admission arrangements
are drawn up for the benefit of local parents, not for themselves.(1)
3. Comprehensive Future wants to see all
parents having access to a good local school. This is what the
vast majority of parents want. A recent survey of parents carried
out by Which (2) found that 95% of parents want access
to a "high quality local school". All government action
on admissions should be guided by this aim. The White Paper should
be judged on the extent to which this makes this aim more likely
to be realised.
4. In fact although it is has many references
to fair admissions the White Paper is a further example of the
Government's unwillingness to grasp the nettle of bringing about
fair admissions. Government policy continues to be the provision
of mechanisms providing the possibility of change through complaints
or local campaigns. Firmer action needs to be taken. This is not
only because of the need for fair admissions but because there
are sound educational reasons for aiming for an education system
which is not divided and hierarchical. The committee has already
had representations about the PISA report from the OECD.
5. The committee made many important recommendations
in its report on school admissions on 14 July 2004, many of which
the Government rejected in its response in November 2004. There
is a clear need for the committee to revisit the issue of school
admissions because of the implications of the White Paper.
6. Note. This submission does not address
all the provisions introduced in the White Paper, no doubt some
of which our supporters will welcome, some of which they will
strongly oppose. We comment only on those which relate to our
core campaign aim of achieving fair admissions.
7. We welcome the many references made to
fair admissions in the White Paper. There are several promises
made to this, including in the Prime Minister's foreword. However,
if all schools were to become self governing schools (either trust,
foundation or voluntary aided), a clear aim of the White Paper,
there will be around 24,000 admission authorities, able to set
their own admissions criteria.
8. Unless there is a clear division of responsibilities
for admissions between schools, local bodies and central government
this is likely to lead to fragmentation on a grand scale. It will
make the possibility of fair admissions even more unlikely than
it is at present.
9. If the promise of fair admissions in
the White Paper is to be a reality, there must be changes to:
permitted admission criteria,
the regulations covering the Code
the role of local authorities and
These changes must be introduced as part of
the legislative changes which will follow the White Paper.
10. Admission criteria
2.47 Federations and other forms of collaboration
will be particularly important in the delivery of our 14-19 and
extended school reforms. We expect schools increasingly to choose
to work together with other schools, including independent schools,
colleges and services to deliver the full range of opportunities
which children and young people should be able to access.
3.6 There are already more than 2,300 specialist
schools. Within two years, we will have a fully specialist school
system, where every secondary school that wishes to and meets
the required standards will have at least one curriculum specialism.
Particularly in urban areas, this will offer greater choice so
that parents can choose a school that suits their child's strengths
3.22 We will continue to allow schools that
wish to do so to give priority for up to 10% of their total places
to pupils with particular aptitudes for some subjects sport, modern
foreign languages, performing and visual arts. We believe that
this option should be available to schools as part of their approach
to developing a specialist ethos.
3.21 We are clear that this is entirely
different from an 11-plus system that divides children into different
schools on the basis of academic ability. There will be no return
to the 11-plus.
3.23 There are a number of alternative approaches
that could be used to extend choice and access. One approach already
used by some schools is banding, which means that schools offer
places based either on the range of abilities of applicants, or
on the local or national ability range, to achieve an all-ability
intake. Some schools have long used locally-based banding systems
and, since 2000, thirteen maintained schools and eight Academies
have adopted banding.
3.24 While we recognise that for many schools
traditional catchment areas will be the most appropriate option,
we will make it easier for schools that wish to do so to introduce
banding. Schools can combine banding with the use of inner and
outer catchment areas. This approach would give priority for some
places to those living further away from the school.
3.29 All these measures underpin our determination
that parents should be able to choose schools rather than schools
11. Covert selection and social segregation
The Code of Practice says that school admission
arrangements should "work for the benefit of all pupils in
the area". Arrangements which include selection by ability
and aptitude do not meet this aim. Selection clearly results in
social segregation. There is also a requirement in the Code that
criteria are clear, fair and objective. Many criteria employed
by admission authorities are far from objective. These subjective
criteria also lead to social selection. Some admission criteria
should be specifically excludedfor example interviews,
priority to pupils of teachers, former pupils, terms such as suitability
for the ethos of the school and reports from the child's primary
Banding is encouraged in the White Paper. There
is more work to be done on to ensure that banding operates in
the interests of all parents and children.
13. The Chief Adjudicator Dr Philip Hunter spoke
at a national meeting of Comprehensive Future on 5 November this
year. He said "In a few inner city areas, general banding
for school admissions can work well. For most of the country,
however, banding or random allocation cannot be introduced at
the expense of giving priority to local parents and children.
There is nothing that infuriates parents more than being denied
a place in their local school because the school has decided to
take children who live further away. It is reasonable to allocate
spare school places to parents who want them, even if those schools
are a long way from where they live. It is not reasonable to deny
places to local children who want them when those children would
have to travel a long way to an alternative school. There must
be a general presumption in favour of giving children places in
their local schools, if that is what their parents want. There
would be riots in the streets of many towns and villages on the
edges of cities if some of their children had to travel into the
city to make way for children travelling in the opposite direction."
14. If individual schools band it may deny
local children a place, or affect the intakes into other neighbouring
schools. Clearly only area wide banding should be considered.
The admission forum is the obvious place for area wide banding
to be decided.
15. Partial selection on aptitude
There has never been a convincing justification
for children having to face a selection test on aptitude to determine
school entry. Currently few schools have taken up the 10% selection
on aptitude option. Community schools could only do so if the
LEA decided to do that.
16. The White Paper refers to the aim of
a secondary school system which is entirely specialist. This,
combined with the possibility that, encouraged by Government,
all secondary schools are admission authorities, could lead to
thousands of children facing selective entry tests on aptitude.
There would be a domino effect as neighbouring schools react to
one school introducing selection. The Government's justification
that "this option should be available to schools as part
of their approach to developing a specialist ethos" again
fails to convince of the need to allow this extension of selection.
Admission policies should be in the interests of parents and children.
17. A huge increase in numbers of pupils
facing selection tests can only be stopped by the amendment of
primary legislation to end selection on aptitude.
18. There are other good reasons for ending
partial selection on aptitude:
All children deserve a well resourced,
broad and balanced curriculum taught by well qualified and highly
motivated teachers. On this basis all young people are then in
a position to choose their interests later in their careers. At
age 11 children may demonstrate an "aptitude" which
is not sustained over the following years.
Children should not be burdened with
further tests. Even if only 10% of places are reserved for pupils
with a particular aptitude, many more children will be put through
the test. Parents living locally will be concerned that their
children might not get in and might be tempted to put them in
for the test "just in case".
Like the majority of those who have
commented on ability and aptitude Comprehensive Future does not
accept that there is a distinction between aptitude and ability.
We believe what is being testing is achievement. If for example
Grade 5 music is used as a proxy for aptitude that is surely a
test of achievement. The recent consultation on a new Code of
Practice on admissions defined a pupil with aptitude as one "able
to benefit from teaching in a specific subject" or "who
demonstrates a particular capacity to succeed in that subject".
Surely this is the point of children going to school to learn?
The Government in its response to the select committee in November
2004 relied on the advice of experts commissioned by the Chief
Adjudicator, which claimed to show that aptitude could be distinguished
from ability. However, this does not justify schools selecting.
Inevitably the introduction of 10%
selection on aptitude reduces parental choice for all local parents
whose children do not have the "aptitude" who might
otherwise have got a place.
When challenged a frequent Government
response is that most schools do not use their right to select,
so the retention of this policy is justified by saying it is rarely
All children need to be encouraged
in sport, performing arts and modern language. The White Paper,
like previous policy announcements encourages schools are share
expertise in collaborative arrangements. If schools working together
ensure that all children have access to the specialist facilities
in one school then it is not necessary for individual schools
to select a group of pupils.
If parents want their child to have
access to particular facilities, sport facilities for example
they can express a preference for the school, this gives parents
the choice instead of schools.
19. "No return to the 11-plus"
Comprehensive Future wants to see no selection
for secondary education, except for banding. It is completely
disingenuous for the White Paper to promise no return to the 11-plus
without reference to the thousands of English children who face
it every year. 15 Local authorities out of 150 have around 20
of their places in grammar schools ie fully selective and a further
21 have varying numbers of grammar schools. The 11-plus is being
phased out in Northern Ireland, where there are fewer children
in grammar schools than in England.
20. There will be no change in England under
present arrangements. If the 11-plus can be phased out by Government
action in Northern Ireland without petitions and ballots it should
be done so here.
21. Partial selection on ability
David Blunkett the then Secretary of State speaking
on 22 December 1997 in the debate on the School Standards and
Framework Bill said:
"I am able to confirm that the Bill and
the criteria I will lay down as part of our admissions policy
will remove partial selection where it currently exists. That
causes havoc in terms of the admission of local children and denies
fairness to parents because of the lack of choices and opportunities
open to them."
22. This promise has not be fulfilled. Partial
selection has not ended, instead the School Standards and Framework
Act introduced a complex procedure requiring parents to put in
objections to the Adjudicator. This procedure can result in a
reduction of partial selection, but not necessarily. In any case
parents have to know that they are likely to be disadvantaged
in order to object. When most parents realise, ie as their children
go through the admission process, the time for objections has
23. Regulations and the Code of Practice
Comprehensive Future supports admissions arrangements
which allow local parents to send their children to local schools
through fair admissions. But it is clear that current legislation
and guidance cannot bring this about. There is evidence of the
need for a stronger legislative push to ensure fairness.
24. The committee is aware of recent events
concerning the London Oratory and it continuing to interview.
Further evidence is shown by government plans to bring in regulations
to require admission authorities to give priority to looked-after
children. Clearly the Code has not been sufficient to ensure this.
25. The major weakness is that admission
authorities are required only to "have regard" to the
guidance in the Code (Section 84 (2) of the School Standards and
Framework Act 1998). There needs to be a change in primary legislation
to require admission authorities, admission forums and local authorities
to act in accordance with a new Code. This new Code should set
a clear framework ensuring fair admission policies in all publicly
funded schools, including the prohibition of certain admission
26. Admission authorities
The White Paper could bring about changes to
the school system which will allow all school governing bodies
to act independently in setting admission criteria as they will
be self governing schools. Although it is not clear how many schools
might take this option, evidence suggests that if more schools
are to become admission authorities there will be more overt and
covert selection. Allowing schools to choose is completely at
variance with the aim of the White Paper at 3.29 above.
27. Speaking recently to Comprehensive Future
seminar Professor Anne West from LSE, who has researched school
admissions, said "the admissions criteria of a significant
minority of autonomous schools are not designed to ensure that
they take their `fair share'" of children with difficulties.
These schools appear to be more likely to act in their own self-interest
and less likely to act altruistically. Indeed, one can hardly
blame the schools, they are responding to a market oriented system
and the incentives it createsthe system encourages schools
to compete and to seek to maximise their league table position,
reputation and funding. So the problem with admissions to autonomous
secondary schools is that a significant proportion do not have
what might be considered to be fair criteria.
28. The Times Educational Supplement
reported recently (18.11.2005) its survey of almost a third
of local authorities in England. It found that for "children
living in areas with fragmented education systems, with large
numbers of faith, foundation and academically selective schools,
faced admissions problems".
Roughly a third of English secondary schools
are admission authorities (total schools 3385 of which voluntary
aided 559 foundation 513 SFR 42/2005). This is an unsatisfactory
situation unlikely to lead to fair admissions, as some schools
are able to pick and choose their intakes, while others have admission
criteria set across a local authority. Comprehensive Future wishes
to see the situation ended where some schools are able to set
their criteria and others cannot.
29. The responsibility for setting admissions
criteria should be taken out of all schools, whether trust, foundation,
voluntary or community. The setting of individual schools admission
criteria should be the responsibility of the local admissions
forum, following the guidance and regulations set nationally.
30. Academies have been set up as legally
independent but publicly funded schools arranging their admission
criteria in the funding agreement with the Secretary of State.
Creating this distinction between maintained schools leads to
confusion over admissions. Instead there should be openness and
transparency and they should be brought fully into local admission
31. The Role of the Admissions Forum
The White Paper does not mention the role of
statutorily required Admission Forums. This is strange since the
White Paper refers at length to many other changes already introduced.
Comprehensive Future wishes to see the role of the admission forums
strengthened. Currently admission authorities are required only
to have regard to the advice of admission forums. This means they
are merely statutorily required talking shops.
32. The Admission Forum requires the participation
of schools, diocesan boards, parent representatives, academies
and CTCs as well as the local authority. Although not elected
it is representative. This is the best local forum to decide suitable
admission criteria for all local schools. Working with schools
and Local Authorities it is at the right level to decide local
flexibilities within a Code.
33. The Local Authoritythe administration
3.3 We have a good deal to build on. In
2004, for the first time, local authorities were required to co-ordinate
the secondary school admissions process for their areas. From
this year, local authorities will also co-ordinate primary admissions.
3.4 Co-ordination has made it easier for
parents to exercise the choice already available to them by cutting
down on the number of forms they have to complete and by introducing
a common timetable for each area. It has put an end to a system
where different schools made offers on different dates; where
some parents received several offers of places and others received
none. In the first year of operation, a greater number of children
received an early offer of a school place than in previous years.
Co-ordination has also made it easier for local authorities to
identify and follow up cases where no application has been made
for a child.
34. We agree that this has been an improvement.
The eAdmissions National Project is an example of how when LEAs
are given responsibility to administer then systems can improve.
To avoid any fragmentation which the White Paper might encourage
it is important to ensure that the LA should administer admissions
for all local schools, including the publicly funded "independent"
schools ie academies and CTCs. The LA should assess how applicants
for places meet the admission criteria for all schools in the
area and administer the admission process.
36. The Adjudicator
The White Paper, in attempting to make assurances
about fair admissions, relies very heavily on the role of the
Adjudicator. However, bringing the adjudicator into action relies
heavily on those able to make objections doing so. There is a
major weakness here. Unfair practices do not become fair if there
is no objection.
37. Most parents only appreciate that their
children are being kept out of a local school by unfair admission
arrangements when they go through the process. It is far too late
then to make a complaint even if they were eligible to do so.
This is why fair admissions must be required from the outset.
38. Parents have very few rights to complain
to the adjudicator, they must rely on others who have the right
to do so. There are also anomalies eg if local schools introduce
10% selection on aptitude parents cannot object to the Adjudicator.
However, they may do so if schools propose taking fewer pupils
than their published admissions limit. Both actions could result
in local children securing fewer places in the schools. If aptitude
selection is to remain parents should be allowed to object.
39. The White Paper is right to encourage
the role of LAs to act as parents and pupils champions. They have
a role to complain to the adjudicator. However, in the unlikely
event that all schools become self governing the LA would lose
the right as it would cease to be an admission authority. That
would need to be rectified if the champion role is to be carried
40. The recent Annual Report of the Adjudicator
showed few local authorities have complained to the Adjudicator.
It seems unlikely that in all other areas everything is operating
fairly. Currently the role of the adjudicator is only to take
action in reaction to objections, he cannot take investigative
action. Either this should change or it must be made a clear duty
on admission forums and local authorities to complain if there
are unfair admission practices in local schools.
(1) Office of the School Adjudicator Annual
Report September 2004-August 2005 Chief Adjudicator November 2005.
(2) Which?choice:education. Which?