‘Discriminatory’ Schools Admissions Code Criticised

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NUT banners on the 500,000-strong TUC demonstration on March 26 against the coalition’s cuts
NUT banners on the 500,000-strong TUC demonstration on March 26 against the coalition’s cuts

Campaigners have expressed concern that a new admissions code requires state schools in England to prioritise children from Armed Forces families, as well as children of schools staff.

Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said: ‘Everyone has a right to fair admissions but once you start putting large numbers of children in categories and saying they should have greater access to a school it becomes quite discriminatory against those who are not beneficiaries – the average child.

‘We all sympathise with genuine causes, but it’s not always helpful to give so many children priority in admissions.

‘We’re in danger of creating a situation in which parents are rushing to show that their children should get special dispensation.’

For the first time, the new code gives individual schools the power to reserve places for sons and daughters of teachers and other valued members of staff such as librarians, bursars, cooks and cleaners.

A new wave of academies and free schools will also be allowed to discriminate in favour of children eligible for free meals.

The new slimmed down code, being introduced for pupils starting school in 2013, sets out the guidelines that more than 21,000 state schools in England must follow when admitting children.

Among key reforms, the code will streamline primary school allocations by introducing a new ‘national offer day’.

From 2014, it is proposed that all families will be told which primary children have got into a school on April 16.

The code also proposes

• Giving ‘good’ schools greater freedom to expand without having numbers controlled by local authorities;

• Allowing anyone to report schools to the Office for the Schools Adjudicator in places of existing rules that limit the power to a ‘very restricted list’;

• Giving schools the right to prioritise children of staff employed for at least two years or those recruited to ‘meet a school’s particular skills shortage’;

• Forcing all schools to give priority places to adopted children who were previously in care;

• Allowing schools to admit children from Armed Forces families and multiple birth children to infant classes even if means pushing them above to 30-pupil legal limit;

Meanwhile, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) has warned that better outcomes for youth with special educational needs are being jeopardised by government cuts.

Commenting on a National Audit Office report into special education for 16-25 year olds, Alison Ryan, education policy adviser at ATL, said: ‘We are pleased that interventions have led to better outcomes for young people with special educational needs (SEN).

‘But this is being jeopardised by cuts in government funding which are hitting the local provision of specialist services and mean that schools and colleges will find it harder to offer interventions in the future.

‘While we applaud the National Audit Office’s focus on value for money, support for those with SEN cannot be done “on the cheap”.

‘It requires high-quality professional expertise amongst specialists and school and college staff alike, with the appropriate training to support it.

‘We fear that the inconsistency of support, highlighted by the NAO, will become worse as a result of the government loosening local authority involvement and oversight of education.

‘Further deregulation and competition will do nothing to improve education for young people with special needs.’

Changes to education policy made by the coalition government will have ‘massive repercussions’ for teaching and SEN provision, the NASUWT union warned.

In particular, funding cuts, increasing privatisation and the growth of academies will threaten support for SEN.

And there are fears that the fracturing of the SEN system will have a major impact on the ability of schools to deliver high-quality education.

That was the stark message from NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates at a major conference on SEN organised by the NASUWT in Birmingham last month.

Keates told delegates that ‘savage’ cuts to local authority and school budgets had reduced or removed vital services to schools with regard to SEN.

And she said there was strong evidence that the academies programme would result in a ‘narrowing of choice’ for parents of children with SEN.

Keates was speaking as the NASUWT launched comprehensive new research which has provided critical evidence about teachers’ experience of SEN and inclusion.

The research was conducted by Simon Ellis and Professor Janet Tod of Canterbury Christ Church University.

Keates told the conference at the International Convention Centre: ‘This (research) will make a valuable contribution to academic debates about SEN and inclusion and should, we believe, make an important contribution to government policy development.’

She added: ‘Most significantly, the research considers policy reforms and practice in schools, raising very important points about the identification of SEN, the need to reconceptualise SEN and its relationship with other educational needs.’

She then went on to launch a blistering attack on the coalition government’s education policies as she examined SEN in the wider policy context.

She said: ‘We need to be clear colleagues, the changes being made by this government will have massive repercussions for teachers, school leaders, support staff and pupils in all schools and we do not believe these changes will be for the better.

‘The direction of travel of government policy, in our view, undermines the very foundations of state education, will increase inequalities and limit the life chances of children, including children with SEN and disabilities.

‘In the last 16 months, savage cuts to local authority and school budgets have reduced or removed services vital to schools, particularly with regard to SEN.

‘Evidence from our members about the impact of the swingeing cuts to services and support for SEN makes it clear that the local authority advisory services have been plundered and much of the expertise that teachers valued and relied upon has gone.’