Education Mar 30 2011

Abolition of the Admissions Forum will make life harder for parents

Parents may find the school admissions system becomes more unfair and difficult to navigate as a result of key proposals in the Coalition’s Education Bill – not just my view, but the view of the people who chair local authority admissions forums.

The abolition of the forums, which currently bring together school governors, parents, churches and local authorities in a statutory body to monitor admissions in their areas, is to be debated this week. But Comprehensive Future, which campaigns for fair admissions to all schools, has surveyed admission forum chairs across the country and found that a majority opposed abolition at a time when more and more schools are going to be given control over which children they admit, as numbers of academies and free schools expand.

Concerns raised by admission forum chairs were that:

“Admission processes will become more school-centric rather than parent-centric”.

There would be a “free for all on admissions”.

Abolition would lead to “less transparency in the admissions system”

“Schools will select by ability, the weak and disadvantaged will lose out.”

Abolition would cause “chaos and unfairness and go against the concept of the Big Society”.

“Abolition would result in a more piecemeal approach losing an independent and representative body. This could conceivably impact on fairness and equity of access.

“Abolition would lead to inequitable, opaque admission arrangements that would in turn produce poor outcomes for many children and parents”

Admission forums were recommended by the School Admissions Code which came into effect in 1999. Local Authorities were encouraged to set them up voluntarily so that there could be consultation and discussion about local admissions arrangements and in the hope that consensus would be found between schools and the local authorities. In the White Paper preceding the Education Act 2002 Act the Government said that admission forums had played a valuable role in making sure admission arrangements served the needs of local children and parents  and they were made compulsory in the Education Act 2002.

The constitution of the forum has changed over the years but has always reflected the the local community. Current regulations stipulate that there should be no more than 20 members with at least one representative of community, voluntary aided, voluntary controlled, foundation and academies and CTCs in the relevant area, representatives of each of the religious bodies involved in any of the local schools, at least one parent and at least one community representative. School representatives must be heads or governors but not local authority governors.  These are all volunteers and LA officers provide the administrative support.

It is becoming clear that the changes in the Education Bill risk creating an admissions system that is chaotic, unfair and reduces choice for many families who may find it harder to get into their first choice of school. The government is also planning to shorten and simplify the School Admissions Code in the near future and the Education Bill, currently in its Committee Stage, changes the powers of the Chief Schools Adjudicator, who currently monitors compliance with the Code. Some respondents to the Comprehensive Future survey also called for the powers of the Chief Adjudicator to be strengthened. At the Local Schools Network we believe there should be strong independent oversight of admissions at a local level.  The Admissions Forum is a local body made up of local people and is perfectly placed to provide this oversight. They should be  given more powers rather than be abolished

You can read the full details of the questionnaire sent out by Comprehensive Future, and the details responses here.

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