MPs urge action to force schools to welcome looked-after children

Over-subscribed schools should be forced to give priority to
looked-after children in allocating school places, MPs said last

The code of practice for schools says that whenever schools have
more applications than places, the priority for admission should go
to looked-after children because of their extreme

But a report by the House of Commons education select committee
points out that schools can sidestep this guidance unless a
specific complaint is made.

“The fact that the government’s intention… is expressed in
guidance rather than a duty is a matter of grave concern and bodes
ill for the realisation of other aspects of the Every Child Matters
agenda,” says the report.

The MPs argue that legislation should compel schools to admit
looked-after children first, as it already does with children with
special needs. The law should also apply to city technology
colleges and academies.

The report notes that the Office of the Schools Adjudicator only
has powers to investigate specific policy complained about, and not
to review schools’ admissions policy.

It also recommends relaxing funding formulas to give schools
greater financial incentives to admit “hard-to-teach” pupils of all

The government has so far resisted amendments to the Children Bill
that would force schools to meet the needs of looked-after

Barbara Hearn, director of policy at the National Children’s
Bureau, which has argued in favour of such an amendment, welcomed
the select committee report. “Our view is that governing bodies
should have a duty to ensure that looked-after children are
prioritised at every level,” she said. “The report also shows that
guidance is not a sufficient lever.”

Alison King, chair of the Local Government Association’s social
affairs committee, warned that the government’s five-year-plan for
education threatened to make matters even worse for looked-after

“The five-year plan will cause significant difficulties because
schools are to decide their own admission arrangements without
priority being given to very disadvantaged children,” she said.
“It’s as if they have ignored Every Child Matters.”

l Secondary Education: School Admissions from

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