Wednesday, 2 November 2011

A sensible retreat on staff admissions, but is it wise to allow anyone to appeal to the Adjudicator?

The Department for Education has published its final versions of the new Admissions Codes today. There are just a few significant changes (pdf). In the first version, schools could give staff preference for admissions without restriction. This has been amended to say that it can only be used either to fill a specific skill shortage or for staff who have been employed by the school for more than two years, which seems a more sensible arrangement, though they should also ask the Schools Adjudicator to monitor the impact to ensure it is used fairly.  A second change would see primary admissions better co-ordinated, which is also sensible.

There is still one aspect of the new codes that could cause real problems, but the debates on the Education Bill have made the problem even worse. When Labour established the Office of Schools Adjudicator, the right to refer admissions issues was restricted to local authorities and schools that were admissions authorities. The coalition has extended the Adjudicator's remit to academies and free schools, which is sensible. But allowing 'anyone' to refer an issue would confuse the role of admissions appeals panels with that of the Adjudicator, and cause significant extra work for schools, especially academies. While appeal panels should  refer to the Adjudicator where appeals reveal a clear issue, the Adjudicator is in danger of becoming a Supreme Court to their High Court for disappointed parents. Equally, the Adjudicator will be the new target for opponents of free schools and academies.In its wording today, the DFE has recognised the potential for chaos that the new system could cause, so it "will also ask the Schools Adjudicator to deal with vexatious and repeat objections swiftly." Good luck on that one.

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