25 May 2009

School admissions is a broken process

I have repeated experience of trying to get children into the school of their choice as a parent, a governor, a local government officer and, occasionally, as somebody who sits on Admissions Appeals Panels. These panels give parents who are unhappy with the school that they have been allocated to appeal against this allocation to an independent body whose decision is binding on the Local Authority.

Most of the appeals have little chance of success as the main grounds on which an appeal can be supported are that the school has failed to follow their published admissions policy or that this policy is unfair, and any competent admissions authority is not going to make these basic mistakes.

But the whole admissions process is quite complicated with parents specifying their preferred schools in priority order in October and then getting a letter in March that simply states which school they have been allocated, it does not say how this allocation was arrived at. Disappointed parents are told that they have the right to appeal and will often chose the appeal route simply because they are unhappy with the result of an opaque and complex process when a better understanding of the process could reassure them that they have been dealt with fairly, even if they do not like the end result.

What makes the situation even more difficult for parents is that many schools have now adopted some form of semi-independent status (Foundation, Voluntary Aided, etc.) which means that the school sets and manages its own admissions policy independently from its Local Authority. Most schools in this position have adopted their Local Authority's admissions policy as their own with some minor modifications but some have made quite significant changes.

It is these modifications that make the situation unnecessarily complex for parents as they have to try and understand the subtlety of the admissions policy for each school that they are interested in and it is easy to miss the little differences between them when they all look much the same and are all worded in stilted education jargon.

I do not want to go through the specifics of any of the cases that I have heard at an Admissions Appeals Panel recently (and I am sure that legally I am not allowed to either) but there were a couple of points that came up in general discussion when we were comparing the admissions policies of various schools in Kingston that I do want to highlight.

Firstly, some schools' admissions policies are confusing because they are very badly worded. Even as an expert in admissions I found that I had to read some of them several times to work out what they meant.

Secondly, some of the policies had clauses that unnecessarily (and possibly illegally) discriminated against some applicants, particularly those that could not apply by the October deadline. This is a serious issue for people that move within or into this country after October as they then have no realistic chance of getting their child into a popular school that has this clause in their admissions policy.

The Government has done much in recent years to try and improve the fairness of school admissions and while a lot of progress has been made there is still a lot more to do. In particular, schools need to check that their policies are simple, clear and do not discriminate. Until they do, there will be plenty more work for the Admissions Appeals Panels.

1 comment:

  1. I read this with interest. As an ex-teacher I'm only sorry the government doesn't try to do something about a system where parents with the sharpest elbows and the most money come out on top every time.

    Re this topic, did you see last night's drama satire , the first of two episodes of 'May Contain: Nuts'about the lengths to which middle class parents will go to get their children into the 'right' schools. It's funny, but a sad comment on the current situation.

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