How banding can be manipulated
A “fair banding” system is being adopted by a growing number of schools in England.
Sutton Trust research from 2014 found that banding was being used by at least one secondary in 37 local authority areas and by about 4 per cent of secondary schools nationally. The approach – designed to ensure that a proportionate spread of children of different abilities are admitted to a school – has been hailed as a way of achieving a truly comprehensive intake.
A prospective pupil will take a test and be allocated into one of a number of ability bands depending on their performance.
The school then takes a fixed percentage of pupils from each band to match the overall ability profile of an area.
But the previous chief schools adjudicator Elizabeth Passmore used her final report in December 2015 to criticise some schools for using a banding system to favour high-ability or middle-class pupils. This can happen in a variety of ways. Critics say a system that relies on parents applying for a test, and taking their children to sit it, would immediately exclude children from less-motivated families.
It is also possible for schools to manipulate banding more directly to achieve a higher-ability intake – the key is the area they decide to use to calculate their ability profile. For example, a school located in a very deprived immediate area could take into account the profile of a wider area containing more privileged, high-achieving children, when setting its ability bands.
Filling an oversubscribed school in this way would allow it to ensure that the school ends up with a higher-ability profile than its local children, while still claiming that it has a comprehensive intake.