Selection by stealth is outlawed in new entry code for schools

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The Independent Online

MPs will debate today a tough new government code aimed at outlawing schools that select pupils by stealth.

The draft code has been drawn up by Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary,to persuade rebel Labour MPs that plans for a network of independently run "trust" schools will not lead to a return to selection by the back door. Under it, schools will be barred from asking parents whether they are married or what jobs they have. Schools have been accused of seeking this information to take in pupils from more affluent homes to boost their exam league table rankings.

The code, which will be legally binding, also tells school governors they must not set up deals with exclusive high street shops to supply expensive uniforms. This, it says, would discriminate against families from poorer backgrounds.

The draft code, circulated to MPs scrutinising Tony Blair's flagship education Bill, is the strictest clampdown yet on the way schools' admissions policies operate. It aims to soothe the fears of dissident Labour MPs over selection, but many of the rebels opposed to the Bill want an end to all selection - rather than just curbing selection by stealth.

The code bans oversubscribed schools from using 10 specific measures - "the 10 commandments" - to ensure they do not select their pupils. On school uniforms, for example, it says: "Governing bodies can help limit the expense of uniforms by ensuring that the uniform chosen is widely available in high street shops or on the internet rather than from an expensive sole supplier. Children on free school meals should be exempted from having to pay.

The code says there should be a strict ban on interviews with parents - as carried out by some popular schools such as the London Oratory to which Mr Blair sends his children.

It also bans forms seeking personal details about the parents "such as marital, occupational or financial status or parents' achievements or whether their first language is English".

It also urges governing bodies to make it clear there is no charge or cost related to admissions. "It is poor practice for schools to refer to donations and voluntary contributions in their prospectus and in other documents," it says. "Parents from low-income families sometimes express concern about the level of voluntary contributions that schools request and may be deterred by these from expressing a preference for the school for their child."

Ministers say that a failure to abide by the code could lead to a school's admissions procedures being declared illegal.

The code has been welcomed by local authority representatives who will be given powers to police it.

Chris Waterman, of Confed, the organisation that represents senior local authority children's officers, said: "The draft is much tougher than any of its predecessors in identifying what is and is not acceptable. It is a huge improvement.

"This goes to the heart of the concerns that many commentators have about the subtle, and not so subtle, devices that some schools use to deter the parents of poor, or potentially poorly performing, pupils from seeking a place in the school."

Schools shall not ...

1. Give priority to children whose parents are more willing and able to support the school financially.

2. Give priority to children according to the occupation or financial status of their parents.

3. Give priority according to education, social group or background of parents.

4. Seek or take account of reports from primary schools or nurseries about a child's past behaviour.

5. Allocate places on the grounds that an older sibling is a former pupil.*

6. Take account of the behaviour of other members of a child's family - whether good or bad.

7. Take account of the parents' marital status.

8. Give priority to children whose parents are staff or governors.

9. Give priority to children who (or whose parents) have particular interests, specialist knowledge or hobbies.

10. Give priority to children based on the order in which applications were received.

*Grammar schools are also barred from giving priority to siblings of pupils already at the school.

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