Academies 'deliberately baffle parents to select by stealth'

Parents 'may have to hunt very carefully' to find schools' guidelines

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Academies are selecting by stealth by making their admission rules so complex that parents fail to understand them, the admissions watchdog has declared.

It says that the schools, which are free to draw up their own admissions arrangements independently of local authority rules, can effectively choose the pupils they want rather than obey strict legal rules governing the process.

The Office of the Schools Adjudicator, which investigates parents’ appeals, revealed in its annual report that the number of cases it has looked into during the past year has soared from 189 to 318. The majority of cases involve the government academies, which are responsible for drawing up their own admissions plans.

“Admissions arrangements for too many schools that are their own admission authority are unnecessarily complex,” Elizabeth Passmore, the chief schools adjudicator, said.

“The arrangements appear to be more likely to enable the school to choose which children to admit rather than simply having oversubscription criteria that are reasonable, clear, objective and procedurally fair.”


She added that some schools make details of their procedures so obscure  that “finding admissions arrangements remains a challenge even for adjudicators who spend much time looking for them on schools’ websites”.

Ms Passmore also criticised primary schools which give preference for places to children who have been in their nurseries before they start formal schooling.

She said the practice “has been found to be unfair to other children”.

She added: “Schools that wish to give priority to  children attending certain nursery provision still do not consider carefully enough the requirements for  admissions arrangements to be fair for all children  starting compulsory  schooling so that they all have a fair chance of securing a place in a reception class, irrespective of decisions made about pre-school provision.”

Margaret Tulloch, of the campaign group Comprehensive Future, said: “We need all parties to give a manifesto promise to set up a review of the whole system of school admissions immediately on taking office.

“Admissions are becoming a free-for-all relying on complaints to the adjudicator to bring about fairness.

“We need a simpler, fairer system on which parents can rely.”