‘Un­clear’ schools ad­mis­sions pol­icy must be changed

Middleton Guardian - - REVIEW OF 2018 -

COUN­CIL ed­u­ca­tion bosses have been told they must re­draw their schools ad­mis­sions pol­icy, which cov­ers Mid­dle­ton and the rest of the bor­ough of Rochdale.

The or­der comes af­ter parts of the cur­rent pol­icy were found to be un­clear, un­rea­son­able and po­ten­tially un­fair.

The Of­fice of the Schools Ad­ju­di­ca­tor has given the au­thor­ity un­til the end of Fe­bru­ary to re­vise its ar­range­ments in line with De­part­ment for Ed­u­ca­tion re­quire­ments.

In cases where schools re­ceive more ap­pli­ca­tions than they have places avail­able, places are al­lo­cated on the ba­sis of coun­cil-set cri­te­ria.

Un­der this scheme - which ap­plies to the bor­ough’s 12 sec­ondary and 69 pri­mary state-fund schools - top pri­or­ity is given to looked-af­ter and pre­vi­ously looked-af­ter chil­dren, fol­lowed by those with ex­cep­tional med­i­cal or wel­fare needs.

But the sixth and fi­nal yard­stick by which pri­or­ity can be es­tab­lished is ‘rel­a­tive prox­im­ity and ease of ac­cess’.

This means that those who would have fur­thest to walk to an al­ter­na­tive school get pri­or­ity over those for whom the jour­ney on foot would not be as far.

And it is the way that this part of the process works which gave the ad­ju­di­ca­tor Phil Whiff­ing cause for con­cern.

His re­port states: “I find that the over­sub­scrip­tion cri­te­rion which gives pri­or­ity to chil­dren on the ba­sis of ‘rel­a­tive prox­im­ity and ease of ac­cess’ is un­clear.

“This is be­cause par­ents can­not eas­ily know which school is their near­est or next near­est. This is made more dif­fi­cult for par­ents be­cause the method of mea­sur­ing dis­tance, al­though fair and ob­jec­tive, is not trans­par­ent.

“The way in which mea­sure­ments are used to es­tab­lish a ranked or­der of pri­or­ity is also un­clear.”

And he said there were other short­com­ings in the sys­tem, which could put some pupils at an un­jus­ti­fied dis­ad­van­tage.

These in­clude not all schools hav­ing enough places for all chil­dren for whom they are the near­est - mean­ing those pupils would then be given lower pri­or­ity at po­ten­tial al­ter­na­tive schools.

His re­port says: “There is a risk that be­cause not all schools can phys­i­cally ac­com­mo­date all chil­dren from whom they are the clos­est, a child could find they have low pri­or­ity for all schools due to their prox­im­ity to a school with­out the ca­pac­ity to ac­com­mo­date them.”

How­ever, he said he had seen no ev­i­dence that this had oc­curred and was a mat­ter for the coun­cil to mon­i­tor.

And he found that a ‘sim­i­lar pos­si­ble un­fair­ness’ arose from in­con­sis­ten­cies in how the cri­te­ria was ap­plied to vol­un­tary-con­trolled schools and acad­e­mies.

Mr Whiff­ing said this was ‘un­rea­son­able’ be­cause ‘it ex­cludes vol­un­tary aided schools from be­ing con­sid­ered as near­est or next near­est schools, whether they al­lo­cated places on the ba­sis of faith or not’.

He added: “In con­trast, all acad­e­mies are con­sid­ered as pos­si­ble near­est or next near­est schools even though some of them use faith based over­sub­scrip­tion cri­te­ria.”

A Rochdale Coun­cil spokesman said: “Early in the new year we will amend our ex­pla­na­tion of the ap­pli­ca­tion pro­cesses to be more trans­par­ent around cal­cu­lat­ing dis­tance, in line with the rec­om­men­da­tion made.”

Rochdale Coun­cil of­fices at River­side

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