Schools

Adjudicator backs council’s objections to trust’s year 7 intake cut

Case is another example of the disconnect between councils and trusts in school admissions system

Case is another example of the disconnect between councils and trusts in school admissions system

17 Sep 2023, 5:00

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The schools' adjudicator has snubbed an attempt to cut pupil numbers at a West Midlands school

Attempts to slash a school’s pupil numbers by more than a quarter have been snubbed in another example of the disconnect in the admissions system between councils and trusts. 

The George Eliot Academy in Nuneaton wanted to reduce its year 7 cohort from 190 to 150 next September, ahead of the opening of a new secondary free school nearby in 2025. 

Warwickshire County Council objected, saying the resulting shortfall in places would have to be met by two neighbouring schools with less-than-good Ofsted grades.   

While local authorities can determine reductions in maintained schools, their powers do not extend to academies. 

The Midland Academies Trust, which runs George Eliot, said the council’s objection was based on “short-term need”.

“We do not feel that compelling George Eliot to retain an educationally and financially unsustainable admission number is in the best interests of its pupils”, a spokesperson for trust said.

In evidence submitted to the Office of the Schools Adjudicator, the trust also pointed to a government publication that found Warwickshire “one of the least accurate local authorities in terms of accurately predicting pupil numbers”. The authority was said to have a “strong tendency towards over-estimation”.  

But the adjudicator upheld the council’s objection, saying the reduction would have made “more likely the possibility that some children will… have to travel out of the area to secure a school place”. 

The adjudicator ordered the trust to revise its admission arrangements by October 13. 

Sam Freedman, a former adviser to the Department for Education, said he expected more rows between trusts and local authorities as birth rates fell over the next decade.

“Messy” situations would be avoided if regional directors were given “overall responsibility for commissioning”.

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