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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 September 2006, 23:52 GMT 00:52 UK
Backdoor school selection curbed
group scene at city academy
The code applies to all state schools, including academies
A tougher admissions code for England's schools - to curb "covert selection" - is being published for consultation.

In future, schools will have to abide by the code, which includes a ban on interviews, not just "have regard" to it as they do now.

As promised to Labour rebels on the education bill, it reaffirms the legal ban on new academic selection.

But it does make it easier for parents to opt to send their children to grammar schools in selective areas.

Parental choice

Interviewing is already against the existing code of practice but a test case involving the Roman Catholic London Oratory school showed this was unenforceable.

Its lawyers successfully argued that it had followed the requirement to "have regard to" the code - but had decided to ignore it in interviewing prospective pupils.

In future, the requirement to "act in accordance with" the code would prevent this. Churches have welcomed the move.

Faith schools could ask for evidence of a commitment to a faith but not use the degree of that - such as attending church weekly rather than fortnightly - as a basis for selecting their pupils.

Last year the local government ombudsman told Guru Nanak Sikh secondary in Hayes, Middlesex, to change its procedures after hearing some parents had sent in cheques with their application forms in the - mistaken - belief they would serve as a show of support.

The draft admissions code says schools must not give higher priority to children:

  • whose parents are more willing to support the ethos of the school or to support the 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 schools give priority to siblings of pupils.

But the new 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 now 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 - the precise opposite of the current guidance.

Pro-comprehensive campaigners say this gives parents two bites at the cherry in areas which still have selective systems.

If their child passes they can opt for the local grammar, if not they can say they really want the best comprehensive school in the area.

The National Grammar Schools Association regards the change as sensible.

The new code will be policed by local admission forums.

Forums would be able to report on the number of parental preferences that were met in an area, and the social and ethnic mix of schools compared with the communities they served - but that is not a statutory requirement.

Shadow Schools Minister Nick Gibb said the draft code was "far too prescriptive".

He added: "Civil servants need to find a way of slimming this down and cutting away swathes of prescription."

Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Sarah Teather said: "A system where applications were kept anonymous would be much more sound.

"It would guarantee that schools could not pick, or exclude, children because of knowledge of their family name or address."

One girl's school selection struggle

School admissions under scrutiny
03 May 06 |  Education
Churches welcome interview ban
07 Feb 06 |  Education
Schools warned over admissions
04 Nov 05 |  Education
Code 'won't translate into law'
24 Nov 05 |  Education

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