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Bernadette John, our Director of Special Educational Needs, despairs at yet another pointless idea from The Department of Education

School admission policyThe school admissions system is, apparently, now taking the blame for the lack of social mobility which is blighting opportunities and depriving the nation of much-needed talent. The Department for Education (DoE) is reportedly asking academics and think tanks to come up with a new method which will prevent schools from filtering out less promising pupils.

The DoE is surprised that allowing a free-for-all in opening schools, and in enabling schools to become academies and to set their own admissions policy, has resulted in schools gaming it and avoiding admitting disadvantaged pupils.

What did they expect?

Parents already contend with immense challenges in gaining places for their children in schools they want – whether that is buying a house in the right street, spending their Sunday mornings at church or tutoring their child to get through selection. Can politicians not understand that, whatever system they come up with, parents will, as they always have, do whatever is necessary to get a place in a decent school - and the more affluent and socially advantaged will always find this easier?

Let’s wake up to the real problem: a lack of good schools. And let’s not waste money shifting statistics but spend it instead on resolving that, seemingly perpetual, problem.

There are swathes of the country where you have to be extremely sharp-elbowed to get a decent place. In the North and the Midlands, 28% of school places are in schools judged by Ofsted to be requiring improvement or inadequate. That means that more than 400,000 school places in these regions are ones no parent would choose.

In high population areas like London, there are simply not enough school places. Parents in Hammersmith, for example, have to name six choices of secondary school, yet around 12% of children will get none of these six and may well have to travel miles out of borough to go to school. In addition, faith school requirements mean that thousands of local children are disqualified from places at schools nearest to them.

Local authorities have been stripped of the power to set up new schools in areas of need. Instead free school operators can set them up wherever they choose with no particular regard to demand.

So let’s hand back powers to the local authorities – or create some other impartial authority to take responsibility - for the task of providing the number of school places equal to the number of school age children in their area. This ain't rocket science - or even particularly advanced maths.

School leaders have also proposed reforms to the school appeals system which, they complain, creates a huge workload and ties up staff. Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, told the TES that parents, “have got to have a genuine reason to be able to appeal, and not just appeal because they are not happy with the decision”.

It’s a confounding comment. We say parents have every right to challenge the decision if they feel their child will not thrive in the school allocated. None of the parents who have come to us for help with an appeal would have chosen to do so. Not one has appealed for other than serious and justifiable reasons.

If there were sufficient places in good quality schools, there would be far fewer appeals.

Why can everyone other than politicians see this?

January 2017


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