Education secretary woos MPs with concessions on school admissions

All schools awarded trust status will be forced to follow the government’s code of practice on admissions, education secretary Ruth Kelly has conceded.

In a letter to the chair of the House of Commons Education and Skills committee, Kelly promised to close the legal loophole around the code “so that admission authorities must ‘act in accordance’ with it, rather than having ‘regard’ to it”.

She also promised to legislate to ban the practice of interviewing as a means to selection.

The letter to Barry Sheerman MP followed last month’s publication of the committee’s formal response to the education white paper. The paper proposes among other things to give every school the opportunity to become a trust school, and therefore to become its own admissions authority.

Flagging up the link between school admissions and levels of segregation, the committee urged the government to reinforce the code of practice on admissions with greater regulation and effective sanctions, and specifically demanded the end to the use of interviewing or testing in the admissions process.

Under the changes set out in her letter to Sheerman, Kelly also reveals plans to increase the powers, and widen the membership, of admissions forums. The forums will continue to monitor whether admissions arrangements of a local authority and schools in its area are consistent with the code of practice, but will have a new power to refer a school to the schools adjudicator where it thinks it is not following the code.

Although admissions forums will not be able to set quotas for different types of children, they will be given a new power to produce an annual report that can highlight the number of children entitled to free school meals and children with statements of special educational need, for example, who have been accepted at each school.

Finally, the education secretary agreed in her letter to meet demands from the Local Government Association and others for local authorities to retain the ability to propose new community schools, as well as new foundation schools. They also have the option of having a minority stake in a trust.

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