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Initial evidence across these three local authorities suggests that the large majority of schools appear to be complying with the code, including an overwhelming majority of academies and schools where local authorities are the admission authority. However, a significant minority of schools in our sample appear not to be compliant with the code, of which a disproportionate number are voluntary aided or foundation schools.

Practices revealed in our survey which are non-compliant with the code include: schools asking parents to commit to making financial contributions as a condition of admission; not giving looked after children the priority required by law; asking about the marital status, occupational or financial status of parents; giving priority on the basis of family members who are not siblings attending the school; and interviewing children.

The department has now written to each of the three local authorities covered by this initial work, and to the governing bodies of all voluntary aided and

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foundation schools in these areas who appear not to have complied with the code or the law, asking them to verify what we have found. Once verified, we will present the detailed information to Parliament.

However, it is right, based on this initial evidence that we take immediate steps now to ensure that all schools across the country that are not currently complying with the law are fully compliant for their 2009 admissions; in addition, and based upon advice from leading counsel, there are steps I can take now affecting the 2008 admissions procedures to ensure greater compliance with the code but without disrupting and delaying the current process of admissions in a way that would be unfair and disproportionate, adversely affecting parents, children and schools across the country.

Strengthening the admissions system for 2009

All admission authorities should by now have completed consultation on their proposed admission arrangements for September 2009 and must determine their arrangements by 15 April 2008. Local authorities have a duty under the code to refer objections to the schools adjudicator and I expect them to act where it appears that determined admission arrangements do not comply with the statutory requirements.

Other admission authorities, admissions forums and parents also have the power to object, and from this year religious authorities also have the power to object to the admission arrangements of schools for which they are responsible. The major faith bodies welcomed the code, and I know that they want to play their part in ensuring all schools adopt arrangements that are transparent and fair.

We will now take the following steps:

Strengthening the role of local authorities

It is right and in keeping with their responsibility as commissioners of children’s services that local authorities have oversight of admission policies in their areas. We will introduce an amendment to the Education and Skills Bill at Report stage to place a further duty on local authorities to report each year on the legality, fairness and effectiveness of all school admission arrangements in their area. The report will be sent to the adjudicator after the admission arrangements have been determined and before the end of the proposed new statutory objections period. This will ensure that admission forums and parents are properly informed and the schools adjudicator has the information he needs to investigate and ensure compliance with the code.Improving Admission ForumsAdmission forums have a vital role in monitoring admission arrangements. We will consult in the coming months on what further steps we can take to ensure that forums operate as effectively as possible.Consulting and engaging communities and parents more effectivelyAdmission arrangements should be subject to proper scrutiny and discussion at local level while they are being determined. This should include an effective consultation that includes all those who have an interest in admission policies, especially parents, and when major changes are proposed. We

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will also amend the Education and Skills Bill at Report stage to take powers to enhance consultation arrangements and will consult on detailed proposals in the summer. Properly informing parents To ensure all parents are properly informed about their rights in this system, we will publish a guide for parents on the admission and appeals codes early next month. This will set out what parents can expect from the admissions system; give them information on how to object to admission arrangements that appear not to comply with the law; and signpost them to information and support when applying for schools. The guide will also outline the admission appeals process.Extending the role of the Schools AdjudicatorTo ensure that parents and local authorities have sufficient time to check proposed arrangements and to refer an objection we will urgently seek to amend regulations to extend the period in which objections may be referred from six weeks to 16 weeks starting from this year 2008. I am also asking the schools adjudicator to report to me on steps he is taking to ensure compliance with the statutory requirements in respect of 2009 admission arrangements and annually thereafter.

Immediate steps for 2008 admissions

There are some important steps we can take now affecting the 2008 admissions across the country.

For any school that is imposing financial obligations on parents I want to be clear that this practice must stop immediately. Parents must not be required to pay any contribution to the school as a condition of admission whatever they may have agreed to do when making their application. Any school that has asked parents to make a financial contribution as a condition of admission must make clear to those parents now that such a payment is not mandatory.

I also expect all local authorities immediately to ensure that the most vulnerable children, those in care or with statements of SEN are placed in the most appropriate school as required by law, whatever admissions criteria may have been used.

The evidence we have collected and are now verifying suggests that the large majority of schools are complying with the code this year. I want to ensure that every school complies with the code in 2009. The measures I have announced today will help ensure that every parent has a fair chance of getting their child a place at a school of their choice, and that no parent or child will be disadvantaged by unfair admission arrangements.

Schools: Admissions

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Lord Adonis): My honourable friend the Minister of State for Schools and 14-19 Learners (Jim Knight) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Information as to Provision of Education (England) Regulations 2008, which were laid before Parliament on 15 January, committed the Government

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for the first time to publishing data, local authority by local authority, on how many families received an offer of a place at one of their preferred schools. This Statement fulfils that commitment. On Monday 3 March, which was national offer day, nearly 570,000 families found out where their children will start secondary school this September.

Today we are publishing data, showing that across the country 81.6 per cent of families received an offer at their first preference school, 8.9 per cent were offered a place at their second preference school and 93.9 per cent were offered a place at one of their three preferred schools. These figures are based on returns from 138 out of 149 local authorities. In addition, we are publishing unverified data from a further 11 local authorities and, once verified, we will publish further updates to Parliament.

The new school admissions code prohibits the oversubscription criterion known as “first preference first”, where schools gave higher priority to those who put them down as their first preference. For many parents this effectively meant that only their first preference mattered, and if they did not gain a place at their first preference school they risked wasting their other preferences.

Now this practice is no longer part of the admissions process, and parents are no longer deterred from expressing their true preferences we might have expected the proportion of first preferences offered to reduce. However, comparing data collected this year with the results of a survey conducted last year, the proportion of families gaining a place at their first preference school has remained broadly the same and, furthermore, there has been an improvement in the numbers of families obtaining an offer at one of their preferred schools.

There is considerable variation nationally. In the majority of local authority areas, more than 80 per cent of parents have been offered a place in their first preference school. By way of contrast 64 per cent of parents in Greater London have been offered a place at their first preference school.

Where parents do not receive an offer of a place at their first preference school, this does not necessarily mean that they are dissatisfied with their second or third preference. Recent research by Sheffield Hallam University revealed that where a child secured a place at their first preference school, 95 per cent of parents were satisfied and where they did not, 82 per cent were satisfied.

We are concerned about the small percentage of parents without an offer corresponding to any preference. We expect local authorities to analyse the reasons for this and to work with families, schools and, where appropriate, their neighbouring authorities to ensure that all parents are able to express meaningful preferences.

We cannot guarantee that every parent will be offered a place in their first preference school. Nevertheless, because of the huge strides we have taken in improving secondary schools, many more families find themselves in the position of being able to choose from a number of good schools for their children. Our first priority is to ensure that all schools are good schools.

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Making a reality of choice for all families means creating more good schools and refusing to accept low standards. Today, there are far more good schools than in 1997 and standards have gone up across the board. There are now 891 secondary schools where 70 per cent or more children gain five A*-C GCSEs, compared to 83 in 1997. We are enabling the best schools to export their formula for success and support their local communities by partnering other schools in their area, sponsoring academies, or forming trusts. Our aim is to ensure that there are good school places across the country and in the right places for parents to choose from.

Ten years ago, a child had a 50:50 chance of going to a low-performing secondary school which was unacceptable. Since then, the number of schools with under 25 per cent of pupils with five good GCSEs has dropped from 616 to 17. Furthermore, we have announced the national challenge to lift all 638 schools not achieving 30 per cent five A*-Cs at GCSE including English and maths above that threshold by 2012. Options for schools include becoming an academy, joining a trust, federating with a high performing school or receiving intensive support from experienced headteachers.

Parents have the right of appeal against any application that has been turned down; and, over the summer, local authorities and schools will be re-allocating places that become available where others have moved address or chosen a different education for their children. We are also working to ensure that the admission process is fair and transparent for all parents and children.

UK Border Agency

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Government are committed to the swift establishment of a UK Border Agency (UKBA), which will bring together the work of the Border and Immigration Agency, UK Visas and parts of HM Revenue and Customs at the border. The new agency will work very closely with the police and other law enforcement agencies to improve border controls and security. We will shortly publish our detailed plans for the UKBA's first year of operation, but we are able

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today to announce key measures to ensure an immediate and seamless operation between the police and the new UKBA.

First, to strengthen effective police co-ordination at a strategic level I am announcing that chief constable Roger Baker of Essex Police will join the UKBA board with immediate effect.

Secondly, to add to the 3,000 police permanently based at our borders, 39 new specialist posts at ports will be funded in 2008-09 to increase Special Branch coverage where it is most needed.

Thirdly, we will publish in April a new framework for inter-agency co-operation at the border. This can progress more quickly than further structural change either within the police service themselves or between the police and the UK Border Agency.

Fourthly, I can confirm that we will seek a new legislative basis and new powers for the UKBA as part of our Immigration Bill in the autumn.

Fifthly, the Government will be discussing with police forces and authorities whether change is necessary in the current regime for special funding of Special Branch posts at ports and airports with a view to implementing a new regime from 2009-10. The Government are also considering how to implement the conclusions of the independent report into airport policing, with the aim of clarifying the roles and responsibilities of the police, airport operators and other agencies to deliver a high level of security at UK airports and we will set out proposals on this later in the year.

Finally, in response to a recommendation in the Cabinet Office report Security in a Global HubEstablishing the UK's New Border Arrangements published last November, the Home Office is working with the Association of Chief Police Officers for England, Wales and Northern Ireland to consider how policing—which is currently delivered by the local force for each port and airports—may best be organised to deliver a fuller level of integration at the border, taking into consideration the drive for greater collaboration which is at the heart of the Government's programme for improving protective services. There are various models.

The Home Office will also be discussing with the Scottish devolved Administration and the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland ways of strengthening working relationships between the Scottish police service and the new agency taking into account the devolved nature of policing in Scotland.

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