‘Unclear’ schools admissions policy must be changed
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