Some secondary academies in Rotherham had no admissions arrangements after a “fundamental misunderstanding” that the council was instead responsible, the Office for the Schools Adjudicator has ruled.
Academy headteachers believed Rotherham Council was their admission authority – despite academies being in control of entry to their schools.
An investigation by the schools adjudicator (OSA), published this week, found that “most” academies in the area were “under the impression” that the council’s co-ordinated admission process “extended to, and in fact was the determined arrangements for, the schools”.
Co-ordinated admissions simplify the process for parents. But they do not take away academies’ duties to set their own criteria.
Heads confirmed to the OSA that “they thought that the local authority was the admission authority for the schools”, even though all 16 secondaries were academies.
The admission authorities for the schools were either the academy trust or the school’s governing board.
The OSA concluded that “as a result of this fundamental misunderstanding, many of the schools had no determined arrangements”.
Nathan Heath, the council’s education assistant director, said a “number” of academies were following outdated admission arrangements determined by the council for local authority-maintained schools.
The OSA looked at the region after a complaint about one school’s arrangements. This was later withdrawn, but the OSA had already viewed schools’ policies.
After establishing the misunderstanding, each school created new arrangements. But in July last year, the OSA found three schools were still “non-compliant” with the admissions code and law.
Parts of the policies at Wales High School, Swinton Academy and St Bernard’s Catholic High School required “significant amendment”.
All had at least two-and-a half pages of quotes from the admissions code, which the OSA said could be “confusing and unhelpful to parents”.
At Swinton Academy, part of The Aston Community Education Trust, the governing body “did not fully understand their responsibilities” on annual checks on admissions policies.
Schools have two months to change tack
They also believed it was the council that defined a school’s catchment area, which the OSA said was contrary to the code and was the governors’ job.
The acting principal at St Bernard’s remained “under the impression that the process of administering the admission arrangements which is undertaken by the local authority (the co-ordinated scheme) is synonymous with the admission arrangements and this is not the case”.
The schools now have two months to revise their arrangements.
Rob Slade, an education lawyer at HCB Solicitors, said confusion around admissions was “not very common”, adding: “The code clearly sets out that the academy’s admission authority is the academy trust.
“If we are considering the impact on parents appealing decisions, if there are no determined arrangements it becomes much harder for to put appeals forward. It makes it much harder to make sure it’s handled fairly.”
Rotherham Council told the OSA it planned to “enhance” its admission services, including externally commissioned training for the council and academies in September.
Heath added: “Since being made aware of this issue, the council has been working in collaboration with local academies to support them in ensuring they have compliant admission arrangements, which includes the provision of any training and development needs.”
The schools did not respond to requests for comment.