CONSULTATION RESPONSE OCTOBER 2005
The Government launched a consultation on the draft School Admissions Code of
Practice, School Admission Appeals Code of Practice and assorted regulations on 26 July,
closing on 18 October. Below is a copy of my response:
Note on the consultation
I was disappointed that
the 12 week consultation was launched just before the summer holidays on 26 July and
without a press release. Point 1.4 of the
Cabinet Office Code of Conduct on Consultation states that Departments should
consider the specific circumstances of their stakeholders and consider longer consultation
periods at certain times, for example during the summer holiday period. I request
that a four week extension be given to the consultation and that this be publicised
including via a press release.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Para 4. The Code should be made mandatory so that
allocations policy is not left to the discretion of schools that are under pressure to
keep up their reputation. The legislation
necessary for a mandatory code could be included in the forthcoming Education Bill.
Para 13. Assessment of whether a particular
looked-after child should be treated as being of their particular faith should be waived
and faith schools should be required to give looked-after children priority irrespective
Para 14. Selection on religious grounds should be
phased out. In the interim it should be
restricted and there should be a nationally fixed quota of places in faith schools
available to children of other/no faith.
Para 16. The original requirement in the Code which
seeks fairness for parents who are only seeking a place at a non-selective school should
Para 21. I am very attracted to the idea of a lottery
but it needs further testing and exploration to check that it can, in practice, work both
fairly and maintain schools with a local connection. The
idea has not been sufficiently explored in the Draft Code.
Para 29 The facility for state funded schools to admit
pupils on the basis of aptitude tests should be withdrawn.
This would also assist with reducing the burden of testing on children.
Para 31. It should be explicit that interviewing of
parents or children should not take place rather than just describing this as poor
practice (except for boarding schools interviewing solely for the purpose of assessing the
suitability of the child for a boarding place).
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End academic, aptitude and faith
1. The School Standards and Framework Act 1998 prohibits the
introduction of new academic selection except for fair banding. It is logical to extend the assumptions behind this
prohibition to existing academic selection. We
need a national, fair and objective admissions policy which does not permit schools to be
wholly or partially selective on grounds of faith, academic ability or aptitude (except
for fair banding by Local Education Authority). Given
that Government is unlikely to take the logical step of ending all such selection, I would
like to submit the following comments:
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Mandatory code of practice to create a
uniform, fair national system
2. The Code should be mandatory.
All admission authorities, including foundation schools and City Technology
Colleges should be required to act in accordance with the Code, rather than
simply have to have regard to.
3. League tables provide a disincentive
for schools to allocate their fair share of places for children in care, hard to
place children and children with special educational needs. A fair system, applied to all schools funded by the
state, would help the heads of less popular schools that face the difficulty of raising
standards while parents of pupils who would be easiest to teach do all they can to try and
ensure their children go to favoured but
oversubscribed schools, including being willing to move house.
4. The Code should be made
mandatory so that allocations policy is not left to the discretion of schools that are
under pressure to keep up their reputation. The
legislation necessary for a mandatory code could be included in the forthcoming Education
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Open up the admissions of faith schools
5. In encouraging faith schools, the government believes that the
distinct ethos and character of faith schools helps them perform better. I would challenge this conclusion. Any selective school can achieve better than
average results, and church schools are usually selective.
They take less than their share of deprived children and more than their
share of the children of more ambitious parents, a point the Government should be well
aware of, as Ofsted said at the time the Government was expanding the number of faith
schools in 2001 "Selection, even on religious grounds, is likely to attract
well behaved children from stable backgrounds," This covert selection goes a long way towards
explaining their apparent academic success.
6. I do not accept the assertion that the ethos of church schools is
somehow superior to that of non-denominational schools where staff show just as much love
and professional dedication. It is our
comprehensive schools, genuinely open to applications from all races and religions that
have the authority to claim that they have at heart the good of our whole society.
7. Religious schools discriminate against everyone not of that faith
- in their admissions and employment policies, their curricula and their assumptions about
their religion. In my constituency, for
example, there are two Catholic secondary schools. One
has not taken non-Catholics for many years and the other until recently was admitting
children from other faith groups (though not of no faith) including many Muslim children. However, this mixed intake was at a time when the
schools reputation was low (there having been a scandal involving a previous head
teacher). As their reputation has grown (for
which the Head and staff are to be congratulated), fewer and fewer non-Catholic children
have been accepted to the point that, this year, even Catholic pupils living locally but
who did not go to a Catholic primary school have been excluded. Such school cease to be a part of a local community
as is also the case with grammar schools in my constituency, a recent statistic I
was given by the Head of a grammar school in my constituency was that 59% of pupils came
from outside Birmingham.
8. Some faith-based schools will not even try to serve the whole
community and will divide children not just by religion but also ethnically. Northern Ireland and Bradford are examples of what
happens to communities where children are educated separately and grow up knowing little
of each other. In the wake of the 9/11
atrocity in New York and the 7/7 bombings in London it is even more important that all
groups in our society feel included and are given every possible opportunity to integrate.
9. I uphold the right to freedom of belief and understand the desire
of parents to bring up their children with the family's beliefs. However, it is not the job of publicly funded
schools to instil a religious faith in children and the state is not obliged to provide
schools catering for every shade of belief or philosophy.
The state has its own interest in ensuring that children grow up to be
responsible and capable citizens. Schools
should, of course, teach about religion and philosophy but they should do so in an
objective, critical, and pluralistic manner.
10. We need to have all our children educated in schools that believe
that concern for others is not a Christian virtue, or a Jewish or Islamic virtue, but a
human virtue; and where all the faiths are equally respected.
11. Of course, given the existence of so many religious schools in
this country, it would be naive to think that these can be abolished overnight but we should be aiming at admission policies that
work towards reintegrating these schools by requiring quotas for intakes to include a
proportion of children of other faiths and none. Admissions
arrangements of faith schools must be more open.
12. Paragraph 1.5 of the consultation particularly welcomes comments
on how the requirement to give priority to looked-after children might apply in relation
to faith schools.
13. Assessment of whether a
particular looked-after child should be treated as being of their particular faith should
be waived and faith schools should be required to give looked-after children priority
irrespective of faith.
14. Selection on religious
grounds should be phased out. In the interim
it should be restricted and there should be a nationally fixed quota of places in faith
schools available to children of other/no faith.
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Remove the changes that give double
preferences to parents who want grammar schools
15. The current Code requires that, in areas where there are grammar
schools, parents should have to express a preference as otherwise it is unfair to
parents who only want a place at a non-selective school. It is very disappointing that the Draft Code
reverses this requirement when it says it is good practice for parents to be able to
know the outcome of selective tests before the closing dates for application to schools
under co-ordinated schemes. This
effectively means that parents who want grammar schools get two preferences if their
children fail the grammar school test. This is unfair.
16. The original requirement
in the Code which seeks fairness for parents who are only seeking a place at a
non-selective school should be re-instated.
17. The system is also unfair as parents of those children who pass
the grammar school test have the advantage of knowing further in advance which school
their children are going to, unlike parents who have to rely on the later outcome of
18. In selective areas such as Kent, schools taking all abilities
have required parents to put them as first preference first so that they can
give priority to parents who want all ability schools.
The draft refers to this as not working well where there is an element
of selection by ability or aptitude. If
selection were ended there would be no need for all ability schools to implement this
policy and equal preference throughout co-ordinated schemes would be fairer.
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19. Fair banding - placing applicants into ability bands on the basis
of non-verbal reasoning tests and admitting a representative proportion from each band -
is a way of ensuring the intake of a school is genuinely comprehensive. I understand this has been successful in the case
of Thomas Telford School but would only be possible in oversubscribed schools. However,
that would be precisely the place to start - but see below on random allocation.
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Use of a lottery or
random allocation system for oversubscribed schools
20. The idea of adopting a lottery, or random allocation, for heavily
oversubscribed admissions is an interesting one, that does have the good intention of
trying to avoid social segregation. Pulling
names out of a hat overcomes the advantage some pupils have over others. However, it can also mean that some students do not
get into their nearest school. Therefore any
lottery system would need to be within a catchment area that keeps the intake
fairly local but is wide enough to avoid the problem in some areas of parents buying up
the houses near the most desirable schools. This
idea might be less necessary if the concept of fair banding were adopted for
oversubscribed schools. Conversely, random
allocation would be less bureaucratic and not likely to be seen as social
21. I am very attracted to the
idea of a lottery but it needs further testing and exploration to check that it can, in
practice, work both fairly and maintain schools with a local connection. The idea has not been sufficiently explored in the
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Negative impact of choice
policy on admissions
22. The word choice is often used by ministers. However, when the real meaning of the policy behind
this seductive word is unravelled (who wouldnt want to be able to choose if
something better is on offer?) it is not compatible with an objective and fair national
admissions policy. Is it possible or desirable
for there to be competition in state education so that all people can have such a choice? To have choice for everyone, you have to have spare
capacity so that the best schools dont become oversubscribed.
23. The dogma of choice conspicuously fails to answer questions like
Who ends up going to the least desirable schools?. In oversubscribed schools, the satisfaction of one
person's choice necessarily denies that of another. If
everyone is allowed to choose, schools would have to rapidly expand and contract as they
fell in and out of peoples favour. In
practical terms this is certainly both wasteful and inefficient and probably impossible
which is why talk of choice for all is, in fact, illusory.
24. The impracticality of essential institutions like schools
operating at spare (and varying) capacity means that some people wont get to choose
as the most desired schools fill up. The
choice agenda is also incompatible with social justice on the grounds that
some people are better equipped to make choices than others.
What about the children who dont have a savvy parent to negotiate the
education market on their behalf?
25. Parents dont really want the anxiety of trying to get their
children into the best schools. What
they really want is for their local school to be of a high standard. I am frequently contacted by anxious parents
going through the Local Education Authority appeal process, who rarely succeed. It is a myth that the mirage of choice
drives up standards.
26. People just want quality local schools that they can rely on and
as former Education Secretary Estelle Morris recently said on the Today Programme
this is what the extra investment in education should be going towards.
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End selection at 11 and the local
grammar school ballot system
27. Government policy is that if local
people want to keep academic selection at age 11, then this justifies or somehow makes
acceptable its continued existence. However,
whatever the outcome of a local ballot, the existence of academic selection at age 11
remains an unfair and unacceptable reality for those children who are subsequently branded
a failure at age eleven.
Academic selection at 11 should be ended because it is unfair and detrimental to the
esteem of individual children who fail the test and there is no evidence that it produces
better results overall.
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Withdraw the facility for state funded
schools to admit pupils on the basis of aptitude tests
29. In its response to the Education and
Skills Committee, the Government suggests that it is possible to screen out any incidental
ability effect of aptitude tests by ensuring the pupils selected are spread
across the whole ability range. However, there is not an explanation of a means by
which aptitude can be assessed without reference to ability.
The facility for state funded schools
to admit pupils on the basis of aptitude tests should be withdrawn. This would also assist with reducing the burden of
testing on children.
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Strengthen the Draft Code on
30. The current Code is very clear and states that:
parents or children should be interviewed as any part of the application or admission
process, in any school except a boarding school.
However, the Draft Code contains the potentially weaker formulation:
is poor practice to interview parents or children as any part of the application or
admission process in any school except a boarding school.
31. This change should be reversed and the
original formulation used. It should be explicit that interviewing of parents or
children should not take place rather than just describing this as poor practice (except
for boarding schools interviewing solely for the purpose of assessing the suitability of
the child for a boarding place).
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