Department for Education
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Ed Balls’ response to the Chief School Adjudicator’s Annual Report 2008/9

Children’s Secretary Ed Balls has today written to the Chief School Adjudicator, Ian Craig, responding to his 2008-09 Annual Report published this morning. The letter also gives specific responses to his recommendations.

He has also laid the Annual Report in Parliament and three individual reports by the Chief School Adjudicator commissioned by Mr Balls – on fraudulent and misleading applications for admission to schools; random allocation in admission arrangements for schools; and procedures used for the admission of twins and other children from multiple births to the same school.

All four reports will be published on the Office of the Schools Adjudicator website today:

“Thank you for your Annual Report, and your three earlier reports which I commissioned separately on random allocation of school places, the admission of twins and other children from multiple births, and on deceptive and misleading applications. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to you for the hard work that you have put in to deliver these reports.

My objective, which you share, is to ensure that we have a fair and efficient schools admissions process and your Annual Report is crucial in clarifying for me the situation around fair access to school places, and how well the system is working. The additional reports that you have provided give me further clarification on these more detailed issues. This letter responds to your reports and commissions from you some further work on the issue of misleading applications.

I am assured by your overall conclusion that the admissions system is now much fairer for parents and children. You report fewer admissions-related objections and high levels of compliance, underpinned by the new Admissions Code and legislative framework. I am particularly pleased that where you have found non-compliance, it is often of a relatively minor nature, and that your team are making full use of their extended powers to deal swiftly and comprehensively with these cases.

It is important to me that families are at the heart of the admissions system. On the issue of the admission of twins and other children from multiple births to the same school, you recommend that in order to meet the School Admissions Code’s advice about enabling twins and children from multiple births to be allocated places together at primary schools, the list of “excepted pupils” in the class size regulations be extended to include them. I accept this recommendation, as well as your further recommendation that all admission authorities must be required to consult on, and publish arrangements for the admission of twins and children from multiple births. I intend to publicly consult on this, with a view to amending the School Admissions Code to this effect at the next opportunity.

In your report on the random allocation of school places, you found that in the large majority of cases it is used only as a tie-breaker to allocate final places and therefore has very little impact on the allocation of school places in general. I am reassured by your evidence that the use of random allocation provides a valid contribution to fair access to school places, and by your conclusion that the current legislation and guidance is appropriate.

On the issue of misleading applications for school places, I am reassured that the vast majority of applications are honest; but remain concerned that some places may be being obtained by deception while other children are being denied their ‘rightful’ place.

I take this issue very seriously and it is vital that it is also taken seriously by schools, admission authorities, and parents.

The small minority of parents who break the rules must understand that obtaining a place by deception is not fair to everyone else. In your report, you raise the possibility of a media campaign to raise awareness that each place gained by deception represents the denial of a place to another child. I am interested in this idea and I am keen to work with you to raise public awareness of this issue.

I understand that some local authorities have suggested that criminal or civil penalties could be used to sanction parents that undertake deceptive behaviour. I have always been clear that it has not been and is not our intention that parents should be criminalised. But I recognise that is a serious issue, and accept your conclusion that we need to look at further sanctions. I would therefore like you to provide me with recommendations on how the problem should be addressed, including proposals on how to strengthen the deterrents, bearing in mind the need for any sanctions to be legitimate and proportionate. I would appreciate a further report from you by the end of February 2010.
In your Annual Report, you also made a further six recommendations in addition to those mentioned above – I have reproduced them at Annex A for ease of reference. I accept, in principle, all of these recommendations and am working with my officials to bring them into force. I am pleased that you find that the admissions system is becoming fairer year on year, and hope that the proposals you make will lead to further improvements.

As ever, I am grateful for your advice. Please also convey to your adjudicator team and staff my grateful thanks for their continuing hard work in ensuring that children have genuinely fair access to schools.”

Editor's Notes
This press notice relates to 'England'

Annex A - Recommendations from the Chief Schools Adjudicator’s Annual Report

Recommendation 1 - To avoid continued confusion and mixed practice, definitions are still required in the Code (or until a new Code is published, on the Guidance on Admissions section of the DCSF website) for key terms such as ‘parents’, ‘siblings’, ‘distance’ and ‘home address’

I will ask my officials to consider further how the existing definitions in the Glossary of the Code might be strengthened further.

Recommendation 2 – Faith groups nationally should take responsibility for drawing up some model Supplementary Information Forms (SIFs) for use when determining the 2011 arrangements.

My officials will work with the faith authorities to draw up some Supplementary Information Forms. However, as you rightly state in your report, this is very much a process that should be led by the faith authorities.

Recommendation 3 - Greater clarity is needed in the Code (currently paragraphs 2.65 and 2.69) about parents’ rights relating to deferral of school places until the child is of statutory school age.

We are currently consulting on a change to the Code to meet the commitment in Rose Primary Curriculum Review that from the 2011/12 school year, all children will be entitled to start school in the September after their fourth birthday, or to be offered 25 hours of free early learning a week if they choose to defer their child’s entry to school. We would welcome your input to the consultation.

Recommendation 4 - Objections to the admission arrangements of Academies should be treated in the same way as other state funded schools and ‘determined’ by the Adjudicator.

You have raised a valid point about parents’ confusion on where to object to Academies’ admission arrangements. I intend to consult on amending the School Admissions Code to establish a system of indirect referral, where objections to Academies’ admission arrangements would come to you before you make recommendations to me. I would then take your recommendations into account in reaching a decision.

Recommendation 5 - An earlier end date should be considered for submitting objections to the OSA against determined admission arrangements.

As you are aware, this regulation was laid last year as a result of an extensive public consultation, in order to ensure that parents and families are at the heart of the admissions system and have a chance to object where arrangements are unfair. I will ask my officials to consider further how your concerns might be addressed.

Recommendation 6 - Due to pressure on the OSA over the summer months, the ‘compliance exercise’ should in future years be spread over the whole year.

I am happy to accept this recommendation – it is for you to decide how best to manage the workload of your Adjudicators, in line with the mandatory provisions of the Code and associated regulations, and my annual remit letter to you.

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