Office of the Schools Adjudicator – annual report

December 4th, 2012 by Rachel Kamm

Elizabeth Passmore OBE, the Chief Schools Adjudicator, has published the Office of the Schools Adjudicator’s annual report, covering the school year from September 2011 to August 2012.

The Adjudicator hears objections to admission arrangements for all types of schools, with the majority of referrals made by parents. It also considers requests for a variation to determined admission numbers for maintained schools, appeals against a local authority’s notice to direct a maintained school to admit a child, statutory proposals and land transfer cases. In total, it dealt with 265 new cases over the course of the year, 156 of which related to admission arrangements. Local authorities in England are required to produce a local authority annual report that must be sent to the Adjudicator by 30 June each year.

Of the admission arrangement determinations issued, in 43 the objections were fully upheld, 63 partially upheld and in 51 cases the objections were not upheld. The report records that there has been a continuing trend of objections relating to catchment areas, including objections to long established areas, and that concerns have mostly arisen this year because of an increase in the number of children within the catchment. There have also been referrals concerning the priority, or lack of it, for siblings.A few objections this year, as previously, have concerned priority for a Reception Year place for children who attend particular nursery provision; the objections were upheld.

Adjudicators dealt with 60 new requests  to vary admission arrangements and four requests were carried over from the previous year. Of these, 38 variations were approved, four approved with modification, three rejected, three remain pending, one was out of jurisdiction and 15 were withdrawn.Of the 60 variation referrals received this year 48 related to changes to PAN (43 to an increase and five to a decrease), and 12 to other aspects of the arrangements. The report notes that changes to PAN mostly relate to the need to increase the admission number for entry to a primary school as local authorities struggle to find additional places to accommodate the continuing, initially unexpected, but large, increase in Reception age children. For admissions in September 2013 onwards these types of variations will no longer need the approval of an adjudicator as the admission authority itself can increase its PAN. The second group of variations includes adjustments to catchment areas, again as a result of increased demand for places and the unintended effect on some communities of the reduced likelihood of gaining a place when distance within the catchment from home to school is used to allocate places.

The OSA has collated information received from local authorities about admission appeals. As at 31 August 2012, the local authorities had reported on 22,970 primary school admission appeals (1,892, 8%,  of which were upheld) and 15,152 secondary school appeals (2,922, 19%, of which were upheld).

The Adjudicator has not made any formal recommendations for action this year, noting that “it is too early to draw any firm conclusions about the impact of the new Code on strengthening fair access overall“.  Instead, the report notes the following:

  • All admission authorities must comply with the requirements of the Code in respect of consultation about; determination of; and publication of their full admission arrangements. In particular, failure to publish as required denies parents the opportunity to object in a timely manner to arrangements that they deem limit fair access in their locality.
  • Schools with sixth forms need to ensure they have admission arrangements for entry to the sixth form that meet the requirements of the Code. Students seeking a place should not be hindered in their search by hard to find, incomplete or unclear admission arrangements.
  • Local authorities that are concerned about the number of late applications should use their contacts with the local press and other media to publicise the closing dates for applications. This would remind parents to apply in time for their preferences for a school place to be given full consideration.
  • Local authorities need to ensure that they meet the statutory requirements for making a direction to a maintained school before issuing a notice of intention to direct the admission of a child. This is essential to ensure that the process is not delayed and a child does not remain out of school for any longer than absolutely necessary.
  • The Department for Education should issue guidance for all local authorities and Academy schools to follow if it is considered necessary to seek a direction for an Academy school to admit a child to limit the time the child is not attending a school.

Rachel Kamm

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