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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 September, 2003, 15:42 GMT 16:42 UK
Plan to end school admissions row
Getting a school place is a fraught issue for many families
The government has sought to make the school admissions process in Kent fairer for all families.

The Education Secretary, Charles Clarke, has published a scheme for co-ordinating secondary school admissions in the selective county.

Kent education authority had asked him to intervene after failing to agree.

His solution includes letting families express three preferences, with everyone getting their offers on the same day next spring.

The selective system in Kent has meant some parents' having to apply to a number of different places in different ways at different times.

My job is to make the process of choosing secondary schools and applying for places as straightforward as possible for parents
Education secretary, Charles Clarke
Charles Clarke said that in most cases they would now be able to send a single application form to the local education authority.

"Every parent wants to send their child to the best school that they can," he said.

"These proposals aim to make the process of getting a place for a child at a good secondary school easier for Kent parents than it has been before."

He added: "The education authority will work with all the Kent schools who make their own admission decisions to ensure that next March, all parents receive an offer of a school place for their child - a place that meets their preferences as well as it possibly can."

The main points are:

  • Parents will be able to express preferences for three schools
  • Parents will, in most cases, only have to complete one application form, which will be sent back to the LEA via primary schools
  • All parents will receive a single offer of a school place on the same day, 1 March 2004
But his powers are limited. He cannot decide admissions policies.

Schools which determine their own policies will still be able to decide which children should have priority if there are more applicants than places - the "over-subscription criteria".

These include such things as the practice in some non-selective schools of not considering an application if the parents had also put a grammar school as one of their choices.

The Department for Education and Skills said that, now the co-ordinated admissions scheme had been finalised, the Office of the Schools Adjudicator would decide whether or not schools could use those criteria in the coming year.

Those decisions are due shortly.

"My job is to make the process of choosing secondary schools and applying for places as straightforward as possible for parents. I hope that the scheme will achieve this," Mr Clarke said.

Kent's cabinet member for school organisation, Leyland Ridings, said: "The county council remains committed to providing parents with maximum information before they express preferences for schools."

Legal change

Across England the number of admission appeals by families has almost doubled in recent years, from 60 per thousand in 1995/96 to 103 in 2000/01, the most recent data available.

But their success rate has remained more or less constant, rising from 31% to 32%.

Mr Clarke's intervention stems from changes in the 2002 Education Act, for the school admissions process to be co-ordinated by local education authorities so every parent in an area could be offered a place for their child on the same day.

This was aimed among other things at eliminating the situation where some parents held multiple offers of places while others had none.

Dorset has also asked for government intervention.

The Commons education select committee on Wednesday began an investigation into school admissions.

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