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London secondary schools admissions policies - new report

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While some London secondary schools are moving toward a more inclusive admissions policy, allowing more schools to become responsible for their own admissions risks increasing the levels of covert selection, according to new research by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

The research, Secondary School Admissions in London, examined the changes that have taken place since the government's 'School Admissions Code of Practice' came into force in September 2004 

Compared with an earlier survey conducted in 2001, the new research found that there had been an increase in the use of admissions criteria in London schools that could be said to enhance social justice and inclusion. The most dramatic change was in the percentage of schools that prioritised children in public care. This increased from 4 per cent in 2001 to 85 per cent in 2005.

However, the research also identified a minority of schools, mainly those that were responsible for their own admissions, reporting selective or potentially selective criteria. Overall, around a quarter of secondary schools had used at least one 'potentially selective' admissions criterion (46 per cent of voluntary aided schools, 35 per cent of foundation schools, 10 per cent of community/voluntary controlled schools). In addition, schools in control of their own admissions did not prioritise groups of disadvantaged children, such as children in care or those with special educational needs, to the same extent as other schools.

The research identified admissions practices carried out by a minority of schools responsible for their own admissions that offered the potential for 'covert' selection, for example: interviewing where it was not an admissions criterion, collecting information from parents that did not appear to be relevant to the admissions' criteria and the inappropriate use of supplementary admissions forms.

Hazel Pennell and Anne West, authors of the report, said: 'Secondary schools are now giving greater priority to some of the most disadvantaged children in their admissions criteria - in particular, children in care. But fewer secondary schools that are responsible for their own admissions do so, and fewer report giving priority to children with special educational needs or medical or social needs. More of these schools use overt and covert criteria and practices that enable them to 'select' particular pupils. Pupils with higher levels of achievement at primary school are also admitted to these schools and fewer are eligible for free school meals.'

They argue, 'More regulation is needed so that publicly-funded schools serve all children in a community and do not act in their own self-interest by 'selecting in' and 'selecting out' certain groups of pupils. The findings of our research suggest that allowing more schools to become responsible for their own admissions risks increasing the levels of covert selection.'

The research also analysed how effectively the Pan London School Admissions system functioned for Local Authorities during its first year of operation. Nearly eight out of ten London respondents were satisfied in general, feeling that the Scheme had eliminated - or partially eliminated - multiple offers of a place and reduced the numbers of children without places.

KEY FINDINGS

  • There was a rise in the percentage of schools that prioritised children in public care. This increased from 4 per cent in 2001 to 85 per cent in 2005.
  • In the case of religious schools, the inclusion of pupils from 'other faiths' was more frequently reported in admissions criteria in 2005, from 35 per cent in 2001 compared to 46 per cent in 2005.
  • There was an increase in the percentage of schools that selected a proportion of their intake on the basis of aptitude in a subject (5 per cent in 2001 and 7 per cent in 2005).
  • A minority of schools, mainly those that were their own admissions authority, reporting selective or potentially selective criteria. These schools were also less inclusive in that they did not prioritise groups of disadvantaged children, such as children in care or those with special educational needs, to the same extent as other schools.
  • Admissions practices carried out by a minority of schools responsible for their own admissions offered the potential for 'covert' selection.

An executive summary and the full report, Secondary School Admissions in London, are available at: http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/CER/research.htm|  

Contact:

  • Hazel Pennell, deputy director of the Centre for Educational Research at LSE on 020 7955 6994
  • Professor Anne West, director of the Centre for Educational Research at LSE, on 020 7955 7269

Notes

The Government first issued a 'Code of Practice on School Admissions' in 1999, following the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. A second Code came into force in 2003 and applied to children transferring from September 2004.

The local authority is responsible for admissions to community and voluntary controlled schools. In the case of both voluntary aided and foundation schools, admissions are the responsibility of the individual school.

Selective and potentially selective criteria include: selecting a proportion of pupils on the basis of aptitude /ability in a subject, general ability, holding interviews or pre-admission meetings, giving priority to the child of an employee/governor/former parent; compassionate/pastoral factors, report/recommendation of the primary school headteacher; the academic record of the pupils' sibling; pupils' participation in organisations associated with the school; community involvement by parents/children .

Supplementary forms were intended to be used only in cases where the Common Application Form (used across London) was insufficient to allow an admissions authority to consider the application against its published admissions criteria.

Press cuttings

Evening Standard
Labour may use Tories to win vote on schools (23 Feb 06)
The prime minister risked Labour anger this afternoon by twice hinting he could use Tory votes to beat a revolt on his education reforms. Reference to research by LSE which finds that giving parents more choice might worsen inequality.

The Politics Show, London (Sunday 12 February)
Professor Anne West, CER, comments on her and Hazel's Pennell's new LSE research about London secondary school admissions policies. See latest programme at
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/politics_show/4696126.stm| 

Daily Mail
Selection 'in a quarter of schools' (15 Feb 06)
A major study revealed that up to a quarter of secondary schools are cherry-picking the brightest pupils. Researchers from LSE found 25 per cent of schools - especially those, which control their own admissions - use 'potentially selective' criteria. 

BBC News Online
New fears over school selection (14 Feb 06)
A LSE study found one in four secondary schools in London used some form of selection. The report's authors, Hazel Pennell and Anne West, said those secondary schools responsible for their own admissions policy gave less priority to disadvantaged children, such as those in care, than other secondaries.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/4712382.stm| 

Guardian
Education plans would widen social gap, report says (14 Feb 06) 

Daily Telegraph
Education proposal will 'widen gap between rich and poor' (14 Feb 06) 

This is London
Schools plan 'widens rich-poor gap' (14 Feb 06)
Tony Blair's plans to give schools control over their own admissions risk widening the gap between rich and poor in education, according to the LSE report by Hazel Pennell and Anne West. 

Scotsman
Schools plan 'widens rich-poor gap' (14 Feb 06)
Story originally from the Press Association. Also mentioned in Virgin.net, IC Scotland, IC Coventry, IC Berkshire, IC North London, IC Birmingham, IC Newscastle and UK regional dailies. 

14 February 2006

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