Press release

New admissions code: a fairer and simpler system

Education Secretary Michael Gove MP today launched a consultation to make the school admissions process simpler, fairer and more transparent for all parents.

  • New admissions code: more places in good schools, a fairer and simpler system

  • New Chief Schools Adjudicator appointed

Together the two current codes stretch to more than 130 pages and impose more than 600 mandatory requirements on admissions authorities (local authorities, governing bodies or Academy Trusts). The process is complex, confusing, costly and unfair. The current Admissions Code and Appeals Code undermine parental choice.

The proposed changes would see two new codes created. Together the two slimmed-down documents will contain around half as many requirements.

The proposals would:

  • increase the number of good school places available by making it easier for popular schools to take more pupils
  • improve the current in-year applications scheme so fewer children face delays in finding a new school. (In-year applications happen when a child moves to a new area during the academic year)
  • give priority to children of school staff when a school is over-subscribed, if the school wishes, making it easier for schools to recruit teachers and other staff
  • strengthen the military covenant by allowing children of armed forces personnel to be admitted to infant classes even if it takes the class over the 30-pupil limit
  • allow twins and other multiple-birth children to be admitted to infant classes even if it takes the class over the 30-child limit
  • ban local authorities from using area-wide “lotteries”
  • reduce bureaucracy by requiring admissions authorities to consult on admissions arrangements every seven years (rather than every three years) if no changes are proposed. (They would still need to consult when they wanted to change their admissions arrangements).

The consultation also asks whether Academies and Free Schools should be able to prioritise children receiving the pupil premium, as announced in the Schools White Paper last year.

A raft of unnecessary prescription will also be removed from the draft Appeals Code to make the process cheaper and less burdensome. The consultation suggests:

  • Parents will have at least 30 days to lodge an appeal against primary or secondary school decisions. The current 10-day limit forces parents to appeal quickly. In the last school year for which figures are available (2008/09), more than a quarter of all appeals lodged (24,550 out of 88,270) were not taken forward, wasting time and money.
  • The rule that currently bans appeals from being heard on school premises will be overturned. At the moment admissions authorities have to make costly, taxpayer-funded bookings of hotels or conference rooms.
  • The regulation for admission authorities to advertise for lay appeal members every three years will be cut.
  • The new admissions process will be more open than before. Currently only a very restricted list of people can object to admissions arrangements they believe are unfair. In future anyone will be able to object. The draft code is also clear that local authorities will retain the power to refer any admissions arrangements they believe are not complying with the code to the Schools Adjudicator.

Education Secretary Michael Gove MP said:

The school system has rationed good schools. Some families can go private or move house. Many families cannot afford to do either. The system must change. Schools should be run by teachers who know the children’s names and they should be more accountable to parents, not politicians. Good schools should be able to grow and we need more of them.

The Admissions Code has been bureaucratic and unfair. You shouldn’t have to hire a lawyer to navigate the school system. We are trying to simplify it and make it fairer. We want to cut the red tape that has stopped good schools expanding. We want to make various specific changes to help servicemen and teachers. Together with our other reforms, these changes will help give all children the chance of world-class schools.

Michael Gove today also announced the appointment of Dr Elizabeth Passmore as the new Chief Schools Adjudicator and stressed the importance of her role in the new system.

Subject to the passage of the Education Bill, the Adjudicator will be able to consider admissions objections about all maintained schools and Academies. If the Adjudicator finds admissions arrangements are unlawful, they must be changed immediately by the admissions authority.

Michael Gove said:

I am delighted to announce Dr Elizabeth Passmore as the new Chief Schools Adjudicator. She brings a wealth of experience to this post and will be a strong advocate of ensuring that our school admissions system is fairer, simpler and easier for all to understand. She will also be firm with those schools or local authorities who do not comply with the Code.

Michael Gove also paid tribute to the current Chief Schools Adjudicator, Dr Ian Craig. He said:

I would like to place on record my deep appreciation for the rigour and hard work, as well as the professionalism and diligence, that Dr Craig has brought to this post. He has been an outstanding Chief Adjudicator since his appointment in 2009. I know he and Dr Passmore will work well to ensure a smooth handover.

Dr Craig said:

It has been a great privilege to act as Chief Schools Adjudicator and to have had the opportunity to bring greater equality and fairness to the schools admissions system. I am grateful for the support that the Secretary of State and his Ministers have shown me since they took up office and know they listened to my advice, as evidenced when they agreed Academy-related objections should be heard by my office, a change now being effected through the Education Bill.

I am pleased at the publication of a new Code for consultation today. Reducing the complexity and making it easier for parents to understand without removing the safeguards for vulnerable groups is essential to our admissions system. I would like to offer my congratulations to Dr Elizabeth Passmore on her appointment to this crucial role. I know that she will do an excellent job and I will be delighted to offer her any support necessary during the transition until she takes up her post substantively later this year.

Dr Elizabeth Passmore said:

It is an honour and a privilege to be appointed to the post of Chief Schools Adjudicator, particularly at such an exciting time in view of the provisions in the Education Bill around extending the remit of the Adjudicators to consider objections to the admission arrangements of Academies and Free Schools. I welcome the consultation on the Codes and hope the greater simplification and transparency of the Codes will make the system easier for schools, local authorities and especially parents to navigate and make a greater reality of choice, but without losing any of the essential safeguards.

I would like to pay tribute to the outgoing CSA, Dr Ian Craig, for all the good work he has done and for his great commitment to a fairer schools system that meets the needs of all, not just the few.

Rob McDonough, headteacher at West Bridgford School in Nottinghamshire, said:

I very much welcome the direction of change. Through greater school autonomy, and the academies programme which will positively impact upon standards, I do believe this will increase the supply of good school places for parents.

Keith Reed, chief executive of the Twins and Multiple Births Association (TAMBA), said:

We are very supportive of the work that is being done to make the school admissions system simpler and more family-friendly. In particular, we are delighted that the new Government has taken on board our suggestion to add twins and multiple-birth children to the list of infant class size exceptions. This change should make a massive difference to the families of children of multiple births.

The consultation starts today and lasts 12 weeks. Given the challenge of simplifying such a complex system and the potential for changes to have unintended consequences, this consultation is particularly important. Following the consultation period, the draft codes will be laid before parliament. The new codes will not affect the next admissions round (for entry in September 2012) but will take effect for the September 2013 intake.

Notes to editors

The School Admissions Code applies to admissions to all maintained schools in England. It is also applied to Academies through their funding agreements. It should be read alongside the School Admissions Appeals Code and other guidance and law that affect admissions and admission appeals in England.

Official statistics published earlier this year showed that more than 79,000 children - nearly one in six - missed out on a place at their first-choice secondary school for this September.

Following a career as a science teacher, Dr Elizabeth Passmore became a science specialist HMI (Her Majesty’s Inspector) who went on to lead teams of HMI specialist curriculum advisers. From its inception in 1993 she was head of Ofsted’s school improvement division for six years. She then became Director of Inspection until her retirement in 2003. In her final post she was responsible for all aspects of the inspection of schools and local authorities, including the follow-up, and for Ofsted’s research and international work. Dr Passmore is currently one of the 10 schools adjudicators.

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