Social mobility manifesto puts fairer school admissions at its heart

An education think-tank has published its manifesto and calls for school places to be allocated by ballot or ability banding.

The Sutton Trust today released its ten-point Mobility Manifesto ahead of the party conferences, in the run up to next year’s general election.

In doing so it supported “greater use of ballots (random allocation) or ability banding for fairer admissions, particularly in urban schools that are oversubscribed.”

To coincide with the manifesto launch the Sutton Trust also commissioned a YouGov poll of  of 6,185 adults across Great Britain of which 1,169 were parents of school aged children (aged 5-18). It found 47 per cent of parents would support random allocation. Priority is currently given to children who live closest to a school.

While those in support is less than half, only 41 per cent are in favour of the current allocation method.

The document also calls for schools  to give priority to pupils entitled to the pupil premium and for the government to re-introduce ring-fenced funding for the top-performing pupils at state schools to help them get into university, especially Oxford and Cambridge.

Fairer admissions and fairer access must be at the heart of any programme to improve social mobility.”

However, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) believe allocating places by ballot could make applications more “complex” to parents.

Assistant general secretary Nansi Ellis said: “ATL believes that fairness in school admissions is absolutely vital, and is becoming increasingly difficult as the range of school types increases.

“While allocating places by ballot may seem fairer, it will make admissions to oversubscribed schools even more complex and is likely to lead to parents who are unsuccessful feeling their child is attending a ‘second best’ school.

“ATL believes that ballots and banding would be more successful in closing the attainment gap if they are carried out across a local authority area rather than for individual schools. We would urge closer investigation of both forms of allocation on a local area basis, and consideration of how best to ensure that all schools admit a broad range of children across a range of educational and financial situations.”

The manifesto also recommends that Ofsted should be able to make formal inspections of academy chains, as the number across the country expands, and urges the Department for Education to only allow the expansion of new chains once success with their early academies has been proved.

The Sutton Trust wants a “radical expansion” of three-year apprenticeships at level 3 or above, with it saying an extra 150-250,000 level 3 starts are needed each year.

Sutton Trust Director of Policy and Development Dr Lee Elliot Major said: “There is a clear recognition in all the main political parties that we need to do a lot more to improve social mobility in Britain.

“Our ten point manifesto gives them the ideas that will turn the rhetoric into radical change for the better.

“Fairer admissions and fairer access must be at the heart of any programme to improve social mobility. Our poll shows a public appetite for change in oversubscribed comprehensives and academies.

“We need changes too to ensure fair access to grammar schools, independent schools and elite universities.

“And we need action at every stage of a young person’s development from well qualified nursery workers through better use of the pupil premium to many more decent apprenticeships if we are to give every young person the chance to use their talents effectively.”

The 10 Sutton Trust manifesto points:

1. Better qualified staff working with disadvantaged children in early years settings
2. A new body to co-ordinate university access and outreach work
3. Provide personalised education and careers guidance and strengthen the national careers service to support schools and colleges
4. “Open Access” at 100 leading independent day based on ability rather than ability to pay
5. Regular inspection of academy chains, more published data across chains and quicker intervention where academies are not working
6. Develop a national programme for highly able state school pupils
7. More incentives to use the pupil premium effectively, linked to evidence of what works
8. Fairer school admissions through the use of ballots and banding in admissions
9. Make improving the quality of classroom teaching the top priority in schools, with effective appraisals and a guaranteed entitlement to good quality training for all teachers.
10. Expand the number of apprenticeships available