Press release

Parents back fairer and simpler school admissions codes

More pupils will be able to attend the best schools in a new-look admissions system that will be fairer and simpler for all parents, Schools Minister Nick Gibb said today.

  • All 800,000 primary school places to be offered on a single day
  • Adopted children to be given special priority

Revised school admissions and appeals codes were published today following a 12-week consultation on proposals to overhaul the current system. The existing codes were too complex, confusing and unfair for parents. They undermined parental choice and rationed places at good schools. The consultation received more than 1,300 responses, 700 from parents who broadly welcomed the changes being made to the codes.
Today’s codes, published alongside the Department for Education’s response to the consultation, include two new proposals:

  • Streamlining the primary school place offer system by introducing a new “national offer day”. Currently different admissions authorities release primary school offers on different dates. This can confuse and frustrate parents, especially those making applications for school places in different local authorities. There is already a secondary school national offer day, on March 1 each year. The primary school day is set to be on April 16 each year, starting in 2014. A three-week consultation on the codes’ regulations, including this date, starts shortly.
  • Giving adopted children who were previously looked after (and children who leave care under a special guardianship or residence order) the same, highest priority for places as they had as looked-after children. This would benefit around 5,000 children each year. As well as providing ongoing support to children who had been in care, it could help speed up the adoption process. There is anecdotal evidence that some adoptive parents delay applying for the adoption order so they can take advantage of the priority given to children in care.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said:

A new National Offer Day for primary schools - as recommended by the Chief Schools Adjudicator - will introduce clarity and consistency in the system for hundreds of thousands of parents. Receiving offers on different days is confusing and stressful, especially for parents making cross-border applications to schools in neighbouring local authorities.

Children in care should continue to be given special priority in school admissions after they have been adopted, or leave care under a special guardianship or residence order. Many of these children have had traumatic experiences in their early lives. They don’t stop being vulnerable just because they are now in a loving home. This will also speed up some adoptions - we know that some adoption orders are delayed until a child has started school because priority currently ends when that child leaves care.

The revised codes contain half as many of the 650 existing mandatory requirements placed on admissions authorities and are significantly slimmer, at 61 pages long compared with the current 138 pages. Almost half of respondents to the consultation said the codes met the aims of greater transparency and simplification.

The revised codes also confirm most of the plans set out in the consultation. They:

  • Give greater freedom to good, successful schools so they can increase the number of places they offer to children in their area. More than half of all respondents to the consultation agreed with this proposal.
  • Allow schools to give some priority to children of those staff who have been employed for at least two years or who have been recruited to meet a school’s particular skills shortage. A majority of parents responding to the consultation agreed with the principle of giving priority to school staff.
  • Allow schools to take twins and other multiple-birth children, and children of armed forces personnel, into infant classes even if it takes the class over the 30-child legal limit. This was supported by 83 per cent of respondents.
  • Allow academies and Free Schools to prioritise pupils from the poorest backgrounds. Respondents supportive of this proposal said it would give more opportunities to children from low-income families.
  • Introduce a new in-year admissions process so fewer children face delays in finding a new school. Parents will apply direct to schools, rather than having to go through a local authority. More than half of respondents agreed with this proposal. In-year applications happen when a child moves to a new area.
  • Ban councils from using area-wide “lotteries” as the principal method of allocating places across a local authority area. Some 57 per cent of all respondents supported this change.
  • Cut bureaucracy by requiring admission authorities to consult on arrangements only every seven years, rather than every three years, if no changes are proposed. This was supported by more than half of all respondents.
  • Allow anyone to object to admissions arrangements. Currently only a very restricted list of people can do so. Almost three-quarters of respondents agreed with this proposal.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said:

The new Admissions Codes are slimmer, less repetitive and easier to read and use. For these reasons alone they should help to reduce the stress confronting parents as they navigate the schools admissions system and find a place for their child.

But the new codes also remove the restriction on good schools being able to expand if they wish - a freedom that will provide more good school places.

And the new Codes help schools to attract and retain the best teachers and school support staff by allowing them to ensure their own children have a place at their school.

All these measures and the priority we are giving to children who are adopted from the care system are all designed to help raise the standard in our schools and close the attainment gap between those from poorer and wealthier backgrounds.

Unnecessary prescription has also been stripped out of the draft Appeals Code to reduce costs and bureaucracy for local authorities and schools. But maintaining minimum requirements will ensure fairness and transparency.

  • Parents will have at least 20 days to lodge an appeal against primary or secondary school decisions. The current 10-day limit means parents must appeal quickly but many then drop the appeal because they later get an offer at another of their preferred schools. 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.
  • Guidance against hearing appeals on school premises will be overturned. At the moment admission authorities sometimes have to make costly, taxpayer-funded bookings of hotels or conference rooms.
  • Admission authorities will no longer be required to advertise for lay appeal members every three years, but must ensure that panel members are independent and that they retain their independence for the duration of their service.

The revised codes may still be amended before they are laid before Parliament on December 1 for final approval. Subject to that, the Department intends to bring them into force on February 1, 2012. Admissions for the September 2013 intake will be the first to be operated under the new codes.

Notes to editors

  1. The revised codes can be found in the school admissions section of the Department for Education’s website.

  2. There were 1,337 responses to the consultation launched in May - more than 700 were from parents, and 153 were from heads or teachers. The consultation response can be found on the Department for Education’s website.

  3. 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.

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