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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 May 2006, 15:11 GMT 16:11 UK
School admissions under scrutiny
Pupils at a school
The focus is on access to the most popular schools
MPs have been debating a proposed tightening of school admissions procedures in England, during the committee stage of the education bill.

As promised to Labour rebels, a draft admissions code seeks to end practices that allow "covert selection".

It reaffirms the ban on new, but not existing, academic selection.

But it reintroduces a proposal that families should know 11-plus results before choosing secondary schools. Grammars called that "common sense".

Parental choice

One of the most contentious areas of admissions is the "oversubscription criteria" - what happens when there are more applicants than places.

The draft says it is not possible to give an exhaustive list of what is or is not acceptable, which might vary locally.

But it says some criteria that have been used in the past may "restrict parental choice and work against social integration and equality".

So schools "must not" give higher priority to children:

  • whose parents are more willing to support the ethos of the school or to support school financially
  • according to the occupation or financial status of their parents
  • according to the educational or social group or background of parents
  • whose parents are staff or governors
  • who (or whose parents) have particular interests, specialist knowledge or hobbies
  • based on the order in which applications were received
and schools must not:
  • seek or take account of reports from primary schools or nurseries about a child's past behaviour or attitude
  • allocate places on the grounds that an older sibling is a former pupil
  • take account of the behaviour of other members of a child's family whether good or bad, including attendance record
  • take account of the parents' marital status
  • in the case of grammar school give priority to siblings of pupils

The government's draft code retains a controversial U-turn relating to grammar schools that was in a draft published last year then withdrawn during the row over the White Paper that preceded the education bill.

This says it is "good practice" for parents to know the outcome of entry tests, such as the 11-plus, before they make their applications to other schools.

This is the opposite of the current code, which says schools adjudicators have ruled that grammar schools "should comply with the principle of 'preference before test' to avoid unfairness to parents who genuinely prefer comprehensive or denominational schools."

'Common sense'

Pro-comprehensive campaigners argue that knowing the outcome of the 11-plus before expressing a preference in effect gives parents two bites at the cherry.

But the chairman of the National Grammar Schools Association, Brian Wills-Pope, said the proposed change was sensible.

"There have been lots of complaints to the schools adjudicators and they have said this is common sense really," he said.

"People have been making choices without knowing whether they have passed or not."

He said this did not happen in any other aspect of society, and cases would probably have been brought under human rights legislation had the present situation continued.

The Liberal Democrats tabled an amendment aimed at removing pupils' names and addresses - so they would be dealt with only as unique reference numbers.

The aim was to ensure decisions were determined entirely on whether children met the criteria - without revealing whether they had a trouble-making family or lived on a run-down estate.

The committee stage of the bill continues next week.

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