New academies with places still to fill will be allowed to turn away children with challenging behaviour, under the new school admissions code published this week.
The code, which is set to come into force at the end of February, states that any academy that has been open for less than two years “may decide to refuse to admit a child with challenging behaviour even though there are places available, on the grounds that admission would prejudice the provision of efficient education or the efficient use of resources”.
Although this would only “normally” be appropriate where an academy already had a “particularly high concentration” of children with challenging behaviour or previously excluded children, the code fails to rule out academies’ wider use of this get-out clause during their first two years.
Despite this, the code will go some way to improving the educational opportunities of children in care and other disadvantaged groups.
In particular, all schools – including academies – will now be obliged to make children in care their top priority in oversubscription criteria. Local authorities can also now direct maintained schools – and “ask” academies – to accept any looked-after child during the school year.
Schools must also now have in place arrangements for Gypsy or Traveller children to be quickly registered, whether they are living in an area temporarily or permanently. And boarding schools must give priority, after children in care, to children “at risk or with an unstable home environment”.
The code attempts to eliminate overt and covert selection techniques, ending the practice of schools interviewing children and their families and encouraging schools to ensure other policies, for example on school uniform and voluntary contributions, do not inadvertently discourage applications from poorer families.
“Oversubscription criteria that amount to the selection of children by schools, by means that disadvantage some social groups compared to others, deny choice to parents and must be eliminated from the system,” it states.
The code, brought in under the Education and Inspections Act 2006, has a stronger statutory basis than its predecessors, requiring all schools to “act in accordance” with it, rather than merely “have regard” to it.
Contact the author: Lauren Revans