Fair Access Protocols: Council pleas for DfE to intervene up nearly 50%

Pleas from councils for the education secretary to intervene over admission rows soared by nearly 50 per cent last year – indicating that more schools are refusing to take in vulnerable pupils.

New figures reveal the number of appeals for the government to intervene after an academy has failed to accept a child who has been through the Fair Access Protocols (FAPs) panel has increased this year.

A Schools Week investigation last month revealed that hundreds of pupils were being turned away by schools during in-year admissions.

Experts warned at the time that the figures revealed a postcode lottery, with children in some parts of the country waiting up to ten and a half months for a place.

Now, data obtained through a Freedom of Information request, shows that the number of requests for the secretary of state to intervene in academies rose by 45.1 per cent in the last year – from 71 in 2017-18 to 103 in 2018-19.

Of the 246 requests made in the past three years, 26 resulted in formal direction letters being issued by the education secretary.

The DfE said that the expectation is that cases are resolved locally and that the figures represent only the cases where formal direction letters were issued and not cases where a child may have been admitted after the minded to direct letter had been issued.

If an academy refuses to admit a pupil who has been through the FAPs panel, the local authority can appeal to the secretary of state to intervene.

For maintained schools, the council can appeal to the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA).

In 2017-18, there were 30 directions reported by local authorities for a child not looked after, the OSA’s latest accounts show. There were a further 20 local authority directions for a child looked after – 12 within the local area and eight in other local authority areas.

FAPs are designed to find places for children as quickly as possible during in-year admissions.

Under the protocols, panels of headteachers and council representatives are convened to find places for children. Most commonly this is for students who have moved to the area mid-year or been excluded from schools.

It also covers children from the criminal justice system and children of travellers, refugees and asylum seekers.

The responsibility to find a school place for a child falls to the local authority. But both maintained schools and academies are required to abide by FAPs.

The FOI data reveals that the number of times an academy was required to admit a young person was a fraction of the number of requests made by local councils to the secretary of state.

In 2016-17 and 2017-18 there were 72 and 71 requests made by local authorities respectively.

This most recent academic year saw a sharp incline – up to 103 requests, yet the smallest number of directions issued – five.

In 2016-17, nine directions were issued and in 2017-18 there were 12.

The Steiner Academy Exeter, which was placed in special measures in October 2018, was the only school to receive more than one direction in the past three years. The school, which follows the teachings of Rudolf Steiner, received two directions to admit pupils, both in 2017-18.

Paul Hougham, acting principle at the school, told Schools Week: “These cases would have been prior to the school going into special measures in October 2018, and it’s fair to say that there was a fairly unique profile in Devon at that point with a challenge for broader provision.”

During Schools Week‘s investigation last month, a primary school headteacher from Reading said that the pressure for schools to perform well in progress measures meant some leaders might be reluctant to accept children.

John Cosgrove said that the FAP system relies heavily on the “goodwill” of teachers, adding: “The accountability makes people act in ways they wouldn’t do otherwise. I think the lack of resources and the lack of finances is making things worse.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “Issuing a direction to an academy is a last resort, and it’s positive to see that in 90 per cent of cases, formal action was not necessary.

“We recently announced that we are making changes to the School Admissions Code to improve processes, to ensure in-year admissions and Fair Access Protocols work effectively for everyone. We are planning to launch the consultation in early autumn.”

DfE dodges releasing figures under FOI

At the time of Schools Week’s investigation last month, the DfE said it did not have a central record of how many requests it receives from councils.

When asked for figures in an FOI request, the DfE said the information is not held separately and instead is part of a “broad category of complaints”, which must be accessed individually.

This contradicts the department’s response to the most recent FOI request into the same issue, submitted just three weeks after Schools Week‘s.

When asked by Schools Week for the reason why our request was denied, a DfE spokesperson said the questions were framed in a different way, but they acknowledged that “the content was the same”.