Last updated August 2013
The School Admissions Code (SAC) came into operation in 2012 alongside a new School Admissions Appeals Code (SAAC). These replaced earlier versions and both can be found on the Department for Education website here. The two fundamental changes are firstly that the Codes are now statutory, that is to say they carry the force of law, and secondly, that they are briefer, as government has tried to reduce the bureaucratic expansion of previous versions.
The bodies responsible for school admissions and appeals are called Admission Authorities (AA). The Local Authority (LA), Kent or Medway Council, is the AA for all community or voluntary controlled schools in its area. Academies, Voluntary Aided and Foundation Schools are each the Admission Authority for themselves.
Much of the SAC is not of direct relevance to parents, although its main outcome, the formulation of each AA's admission policy certainly is, as it sets the rules for admission of pupils, including the criteria by which children are selected if the school is oversubscribed.
The changes in the SAC have given schools far more freedom in their admission arrangements, but some rules still play an important part in their policies.
I have selected some key points from the Code below (my notes in italics). The Paragraph numbers refer to the paragraphs in the Code, although I have deleted some points in these that I consider less directly relevant to parents. There is much other matericla in the Code that applies to individual issues, and you need to refer directly to it in such cases.
Overall principles behind setting arrangements
14. In drawing up their admission arrangements, admission authorities must ensure that the practices and the criteria used to decide the allocation of school places are fair, clear and objective. Parents should be able to look at a set of arrangements and understand easily how places for that school will be allocated.
How admissions work
15. In summary, the process operates as follows:
a) All schools must have admission arrangements that clearly set out how children will be admitted, including the criteria that will be applied if there are more applications than places at the school. Admission arrangements are determined by admission authorities.
A recent amendment means that AA's no longer have to consult annually on their admission arrangements unless they are proposing changes.
Published Admission Number (PAN)
1.2 - As part of determining their admission arrangements, all admission authorities must set an admission number for each ‘relevant age group'.
1.4 Admission authorities must notify their local authority of their intention to increase the school’s PAN and reference to the change should be made on the school’s website. If, at any time following determination of the PAN, an admission authority decides that it is able to admit above its PAN, it must notify the local authority in good time to allow the local authority to deliver its co-ordination responsibilities effectively. Admission authorities may also admit above their PAN in-year. (This is one of the big changes in the new Code, which gives academies, voluntary aided schools and foundation schools enormous flexibility in managing numbers. For 2013 entry, you will find a list of those schools that used these freedoms here, providing a total of over 100 additional places at the last moment.
1.8 Oversubscription criteria must be reasonable, clear, objective, procedurally fair, and comply with all relevant legislation, including equalities legislation. Admission authorities must ensure that their arrangements will not disadvantage unfairly, either directly or indirectly, a child from a particular social or racial group, or a child with a disability or special educational needs, and that other policies around school uniform or school trips do not discourage parents from applying for a place for their child. Admission arrangements must include an effective, clear and fair tie-breaker to decide between two applications that cannot otherwise be separated. (Some schools have well established criteria that fail this test. A classic until the last change of headteacher in 2010 was at Archbishops School in Canterbury, which had as a criterion “For 85% of places Church affiliation being the commitment of the family to the life and worship of a Christian Church, as demonstrated by the frequency of attendance by the prospective pupil and their parent/carer”. I regularly challenged this on behalf of parents and never lost an appeal, as the school was unable to show how it had ranked pupils objectively. The school now has a sane and objective set of criteria. I have similarly challenged other schools, notably those whose rules are set by the Church of England, which appears unable to monitor its schools properly in this respect).
1.9 It is for admission authorities to formulate their admission arrangements, but they must not:
a) place any conditions on the consideration of any application other than those in the oversubscription criteria published in their admission arrangements (there are still schools that tell parents there is no point in applying as they will not be considered);
b) take into account any previous schools attended, unless it is a named feeder school (Medway Council behaves unlawfully in its In Year appeals, by asking about irrelevant information from previous schools, and contacting them) ;
c) give extra priority to children whose parents rank preferred schools in a particular order, including ‘first preference first’ arrangements (some schools still misinform parents over this ban, telling them they “have to put the school first or you won’t get in”. The rules for allocating children to schools mean this is false advice anyway.
d) introduce any new selection by ability;
e) give priority to children on the basis of any practical or financial support parents may give to the school or any associated organisation, including any religious authority;
f) give priority to children according to the occupational, marital, financial or educational status of parents applying (though children of staff at the school may be prioritised in arrangements);
g) take account of reports from previous schools about children’s past behaviour, attendance, attitude or achievement, or that of any other children in the family;
h) discriminate against or disadvantage disabled children or those with special educational needs;
i) prioritise children on the basis of their own or their parents’ past or current hobbies or activities (schools which have been designated as having a religious character may take account of religious activities, as laid out by the body or person representing the religion or religious denomination);
j) in designated grammar schools that rank all children according to a pre-determined pass mark and then allocate places to those who score highest, give priority to siblings of current or former pupils;
Distance from the school
1.13 Admission authorities must clearly set out how distance from home to the school will be measured, making clear how the ‘home’ address will be determined and the point in the school from which all distances are measured (I consider that both Kent and Medway Council’s provisions are inadequate here). This should include provision for cases where parents have shared responsibility for a child following the breakdown of their relationship and the child lives for part of the week with each parent.
Before a school can change its oversubscription rules, it has to consult widely:
1.44 Admission authorities must consult with:
a) parents of children between the ages of two and eighteen (how it does this is open to interpretation, but in the case of both Kent and Medway, proposed changes for all schools and academies in the LA are published on its website, at the link indicated);
b) other persons in the relevant area who in the opinion of the admission authority have an interest in the proposed admissions;
c) all other admission authorities within the relevant area (except that primary schools need not consult secondary schools);
d) whichever of the governing body and the local authority who are not the admission authority;
e) any adjoining neighbouring local authorities where the admission authority is the local authority; and
f) in the case of faith schools, the body or person representing the religion or religious denomination.
1.45 For the duration of the consultation period, the admission authority must publish a copy of their full proposed admission arrangements (including the proposed PAN) on their website together with details of the person within the admission authority to whom comments may be sent and the areas on which comments are not sought36. Admission authorities must also send upon request a copy of the proposed admission arrangements to any of the persons or bodies listed above inviting comment. Failure to consult effectively may be grounds for subsequent complaints and appeals. If you believe the proposed changes are unlawful according to the SAC, you have the right to complain to the Office of the School’s Adjudicator. A recent parental complaint stopped a change to the admission procedure for Bishops Down Primary School In Tunbridge Wells. A complaint by local headteachers stopped a change at Chatham Grammar School for Boys. Another complaint by parents saw alterations made to proposed changes at Dartford Grammar School for Girls. You will find a list of recent Kent and Medway decisions here.
2.15 Infant class size – Infant classes (those where the majority of children will reach the age of 5, 6 or 7 during the school year) must not contain more than 30 pupils with a single school teacher. Additional children may be admitted under limited exceptional circumstances. These children will remain an ‘excepted pupil’ for the time they are in an infant class or until the class numbers fall back to the current infant class size limit. The excepted children are:
a) children admitted outside the normal admissions round with statements of special educational needs specifying a school;
b) looked after children and previously looked after children admitted outside the normal admissions round;
c) children admitted, after initial allocation of places, because of a procedural error made by the admission authority or local authority in the original application process;
d) children admitted after an independent appeals panel upholds an appeal;
e) children who move into the area outside the normal admissions round for whom there is no other available school within reasonable distance;
f) children of UK service personnel admitted outside the normal admissions round;
g) children whose twin or sibling from a multiple birth is admitted otherwise than as an excepted pupil;
h) children with special educational needs who are normally taught in a special educational needs unit45 attached to the school, or registered at a special school, who attend some infant classes within the mainstream school.
In other words it is very difficult to win an appeal where infant class legislation applies. Further comment and information here.
If you believe your child has been unfairly discriminated against by the AA's application of its Admisison policy, you have the right to appeal. Such cases may be where the AA has made a mistake in allocating children (it happens too frequently, but parents will only be able to establish this through personal knowledge, the AA is unlikely to assist, being bound by the Data Protection Act. If it is proven that children have bene offered places wrongly, they will not lose them except in very specific cases, and additional children will be added according to the school oversubscription criteria, no advantage being gained by the whistleblower. Other cases will come through fraud and again this will be suspected through personal knowledge. If proven, then the cuplrit will lose the place for their child and hte next child on the wating list will be offered a place. In both cases you should make your allegation to the AA, if the issue is not resolved by the time of an appeal, you should raise it there.