The issue of schools not being truly inclusive when it comes to their admission policies is being flagged up from a number of different angles.
One recent publication highlighting the issue is the Lee Scott report into schools’ and colleges’ experiences of SEND. Scott noted that, ‘Some families report that schools and colleges are sometimes intimidating, unresponsive or inflexible – for example, putting parents off from applying to the school in the first place’.
The system has always been fraught with difficulties, but now these would appear to have been exacerbated by the number of academies that are their own admission authorities independent of the local authority (LA).
With the prospect of more grammar schools and faith free schools being able to select all their pupils by faith, the need to improve the system has never been greater. It is, however, unlikely that there will be a return to LAs taking overall responsibility for admissions. Improving the system, with so many independent organisations to bring into line, is likely to prove a real challenge.
The possibility of banding is being raised again. However, it will be difficult to find a system that cannot be manipulated either by parents with the resources to do so, or schools that do not want the added complications associated with admitting vulnerable or special needs children.
In a research brief by the Sutton Trust in April 2016 it was noted that the most socially selective primary schools tended to use more complex oversubscription criteria than others. In some cases as many as 18 oversubscription criteria were being used in one school.
It also found that more selective schools were more likely to use supplementary information forms asking for additional information. It is pointed out that these can in themselves discourage applications from particular groups. The ways in which schools can discourage certain pupils from applying are numerous and some schools have become adept at using them.
The Trust recommends that the School Admissions Code should be properly enforced with clearer permissible criteria and an open complaints procedure. If the government’s commitment to social mobility is to have any teeth at all then tackling admissions would seem to be a good starting point.