Education Bill

Memorandum submitted by Richard Harris (E 95)

I wish to bring to the committees notice one or two issues when considering the future of Admission Forums under Clause 34 of the Education Bill.

1. Why is the current Admission Code so comprehensive? It is because there can be subtle ways in which schools can discourage some applications. Uniform costs and School trips are specifically mentioned. As the chair of a Charity serving the City of Southampton I see applications from agencies for children who cannot afford uniform or school trips. In 2008/9 we helped 662 children and in 2009/10 533. Frequently the agency letter says without uniform the child cannot start school or the family is anxious the child will stand out. The cost of a school trip can now often run at £200 to £300 even for local activity centres. I have the evidence that these costs cause great anxiety for poor families but have not had the resources to investigate whether it determines choice of school. The issue needs to stay in an Admission Code.

2. You will be advising on the new Education Bill without so far knowing what will be in the new Code. Please push for Admission Forums to remain because without them the subtle ways that can be used to attract the "right kind of child" will never be investigated.

3. I heard a Headteacher proudly say that at Year 6 parents’ evenings he makes it clear that the child must conform to their codes of dress and behaviour. Now this sounds right and proper but he then went on to say that by this way he has already weeded out children that will not conform. But those children have the right to attend his school which is the local school but he is deliberately putting them off. Subsequently his admissions have widened and the school improved its results but the school’s commitment to the more needy children on the local estate has been by-passed and other schools have to pick up the challenge.

4. Fair admissions must mean that children choose schools not schools choose children but, in the era of league tables and popularity, schools are under pressure to find subtle ways to attract one sort of pupil and detract others. It is even more important with the arrival of Free Schools and more Academies that strict guidance is given in an Admission Code and a local body such as the Admission Forum is there to police admissions and ensure fairness.

5. Finally I urge you to consider the following question:-

If it is accepted that fair admissions means children choose schools rather than schools choose children why should any school wish, or need to be, its own admission authority?

Surely if our diverse system of schools is to still maintain its comprehensive nature then there should be only one admission policy common to all schools in a local authority area.

March 2011