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
    week.

    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
    disadvantage.

    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
    abilities.

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

    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
    children.

    “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
    www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200304/cmselect/cmeduski/58/58.pdf

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