Academy schools are flouting admission rules to select pupils from more privileged families, according to a major study of the programme.
The report, by the Academies Commission, says that it has received “numerous submissions” stating that academies are finding methods to “select covertly” and warns this could lead to increased social segregation.
These include arranging “social” events for prospective parents to get round a ban on direct interviews with parents set out in the Government’s admissions code.
Another method is to seek further information “not permitted by the code” before deciding on admissions. “Such practices can enable schools to select pupils from more privileged families where parents have the requisite cultural capital to complete [forms] in ways that will increase their child’s chances,” the report says.
The commission, headed by the former chief schools inspector Christine Gilbert, says it was told of examples of academies “willing to take a ‘low road’ approach to school improvement by manipulating admissions”. The decision to give them control over their own admissions practices has, it adds, “fuelled concerns that the growth of academies may entrench rather than mitigate social inequalities”.
Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, warned: “This is a situation which will only get worse as the Government hands yet more schools over to unaccountable sponsors and allows more free schools to open.”
Stephen Twigg, Labour’s Education spokesman, said the report showed the school system was becoming “chaotic, impacting on standards and fairness”.
The report says that the dramatic rise in the number of academies – from 203 to 2,456 since the Coalition Government came to power – does not necessarily represent a “panacea for school improvement”. The commission, which was set up by the Royal Society of Arts and the Pearson company, warns that many schools which converted to academy status under the Coalition are not fulfilling commitments they gave towards helping other schools to improve: “The evidence... suggests relatively few have taken on the supportive roles expected.”
It adds that evidence “suggests that many previously poorly performing schools in disadvantaged areas (that stayed with their local authorities) have done just as well as those which embarked on the academy route”.
A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “All admissions authorities – be they local councils or self-governing schools including academies – must comply with our new fair admissions code. It is clear what they must do when admitting pupils. We specifically changed the law so that anyone who has concerns about how any state-funded school is admitting pupils can formally object.”