Sikh school revises admissions policy after investigation

A free school has been ordered to “significantly redraft” its admission policies after breaching rules, including asking prospective parents to fill in a religious questionnaire.

An Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) investigation ruled that Khalsa Secondary Academy in Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire, asked parents “unreasonable, unclear, not objective and not fair” questions.

The school said that oversubscription places would be given according to the score parents achieved on a religious questionnaire, showing how committed they were to the
Sikh faith.

Admission processes have been put under the spotlight after Dame Sally Coates, director of United Learning’s southern academies, last week called for a national review of school admission policies.

She claimed there was a widespread use of covert policies and “underhand tactics”, including faith schools asking parents for evidence of their religious faith.

The Fair Admissions Campaign, which reported Khalsa to the OSA, said it would not comment on the specific ruling for the school. But a spokesperson said: “It is clear there are widespread issues with schools not being compliant to the admissions code.”

The organisation, which campaigns for all state-funded schools to be open to all children without regard for religion or belief, raised a number of issues with the school’s policy.

They included the questionnaire asking parents to state how they upheld the three pillars of Sikhism and whether their family volunteered at Sikh temples or in the community.

The OSA’s findings, published on February 11, said the school’s admission policies breached the rules in “many ways”.

“The school has already made some changes, but the arrangements as a whole require significant redrafting and simplification to comply fully with the code.”

Nick Kandola, chairman of the Slough Sikh Education Trust, the academy sponsor, said: “We have revised our religious questionnaire in line with the advice received from the adjudicators and the local authority. We can also confirm that we have had the new questionnaire approved by the Department for Education and this will apply for admission arrangements for September 2016.”

The school opened on a temporary site in 2013, despite fierce opposition from locals and the district council.

South Bucks District Council refused an application that it be permanently based at the site, a decision overturned during a planning inquiry in September last year.

And what about fair banding? Schools ‘fix’ the tests, says Dame Sally

Dame Sally also claimed schools can “fix” fair banding entrance tests so that schools accept more of the brighter candidates.

There is no definite list of schools which use fair banding. However Northamptonshire County Council published a list of seven schools in the area which use fair banding.

The council’s website says banding is intended to “ensure the range of ability of pupils admitted matches the range of ability of those applying for a place (I.e. a proportionate spread of children of different abilities)”.

Schools Week analysed the prior attainment of Key Stage 4 leavers in the seven schools.

Six schools had an even spread of pupils across each attainment level. However, Northampton School for Boys had only three per cent of low attainers, with 49 per cent middle attainers and 48 per cent high. It is the only school which uses a different test to the others.

A statement from headmaster Richard Bernard said the school meets the requirements of the School Admissions Code in all aspects.

It read: “You should note in paragraph 1.25 of the Code that Banding can be used to produce an intake that is representative of one of three sub-criteria … This is inclusive of paragraph 1.25a that ‘Banding can be used to produce an intake that is representative of the full range of ability of applicants for the school’.”

Section 1.25 of the code states that banding can be used to ensure a representative intake on the basis of the range ability of children in the local or national area, or – as in the case at Northampton – to represent the ability of those who apply.

Northamptonshire County Council said it monitors all schools to ensure they comply with the Schools Admissions Code.