Multi-academy leaders are more frequently naming primary schools within their trust as feeder schools for their secondaries, despite little evidence of any strong “links”.
In its annual report, the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) said pupils attending a primary school in a multi-academy trust were given priority at that trust’s secondary schools, sometimes at the expense of local children who “live closer”.
Many children travelled to other secondary schools further away because they had not attended a feeder primary for a nearby academy, the OSA warned.
Rob McDonough (pictured), principal of West Bridgford school in Nottinghamshire, who sits on the Department for Education’s (DfE) working group on admissions, said the use of selected feeders could “destabilise long-standing local arrangements” between schools.
Rather than the traditional local secondary, these children have to be bussed off somewhere else
“Rather than the traditional local secondary, these children have to be bussed off somewhere else. All of a sudden a secondary school that has always been full, with a lot of pupils from certain primary schools, has spare places, maybe even staff they don’t need, and so on.”
The warning comes as a Schools Week analysis found that 17 per cent of admissions objections over the past three years have involved feeder schools.
Of the 507 complaints between January 2014 and January this year, 85 included direct complaints about feeder schools (16.76 per cent). Several more mentioned feeder schools as part of a larger context.
In September 2015, Magna academy in Poole was found to have broken the admissions code by using feeder primaries that were “further away than local schools”, making it “less likely that local children who live nearer will be allocated a place”.
Last year a complaint was also brought against Rivers academy in west London, part of the Aspirations Academies Trust, for choosing feeder schools “based on those schools being members of the MAT”, rather than ones with curricular links or “geographical proximity”.
But the OSA only partially upheld the complaint, saying it was “not unreasonable” for a MAT to want to continue “all-through education” for its pupils.
Stephen Kenning, chief executive of Aspirations, said feeder primaries were fairer on parents who could choose a school for their child at age three “and not have to worry again”.
He said every secondary school in the trust had only two feeders, limiting the impact on children from other schools. If they had five or six feeder schools, he would “reconsider” the policy.
“It means we have all those behaviour practices in place, our teachers work across the schools, and our curriculum is planned out. It also means we only have to get some year 7 up to speed with the trust’s ethos when they arrive.”
The OSA also found some religious schools were using feeder schools to unfairly select on faith; some secondary schools failed to name their feeders publicly; and one school “generally” allocated places to feeder schools. A secondary can only use the feeder criteria if it is oversubscribed.
The report concluded that the Department for Education should seek to “maximise the benefits of feeder schools in terms of continuity of education” but also ensure “that the selection of feeder schools does not cause unfairness to other local children”.