Campaign group boosts appeals to admissions’ adjudicator

Objections to school admission arrangements have risen by more than 65 per cent in the past year, with almost a quarter coming from one lobby group.

In a report published last week, the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) said it had dealt with 351 new cases in 2013/14, compared with 212 the previous year.

The OSA judges on cases where there is a need to “resolve differences over the interpretation and application of legislation and guidance on admissions” and “on statutory proposals concerning school organisation”, such as closing a sixth form or adding a key stage.

The report shows that 318 of the objections related to admissions arrangements, for example, whether religious grounds were being used correctly.

The remaining cases dealt with admissions variations, such as a change in a school catchment area, or the statutory proposals to change a school’s organisation.

Almost a quarter of the objections came from the Fair Admissions Campaign (FAC), a group that mainly challenges admissions at religious schools.

The group submitted four objections early in the year, and a further 74 on June 30, the last day objections could be lodged.

The OSA said 27 of the campaign group’s complaints were withdrawn, and 47 have not yet been concluded.

The report said most appeals had been partially upheld as schools had not met general requirements of the code, including asking for prohibited information such as personal details about parents and families.

Chair of the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education, which is part of the FAC group, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, said: “From a religious point of view, it is profoundly disappointing that some faith schools use admissions procedures to edit out children they consider undesirable – it begs the question of what sort of religious ethos they really have and what happened to their mission to serve the community around them?”

The increasing number of appeals has boosted OSA running costs from £580,000 in 2012/13 to £815,000 in the last financial year. The report noted that there were 15 adjudicators in this “very busy year”. The report also notes that the fee paid to adjudicators had not changed since 2007.

The report said there has been a “significant increase” in the number of schools not agreeing to the Fair Access Protocal with their local authorities. This is in place to make sure unplaced children, and the most vulnerable, are found a school place quickly.

The OSA said that academies, which are their own admissions authorities, are causing particular concern in this regard.

Figures show that 3.7 per cent of primary academies are not meeting the fair access protocols for unplaced children, along with 3.6 per cent of secondary academies (including free and studio schools, and university technical colleges). This compares with only 1.8 per cent of maintained primaries and 1.6 per cent of maintained secondaries.

The report states: “The proportion of schools not agreeing protocols is thus considerably greater among academy schools, more than twice the proportion of maintained schools, in both phases.

“Despite what some schools appear to believe, they are all bound by the protocol that applies in their authority whether they have formally agreed it or not.”