Local Authority Approaches to the School Admissions Process

Peter Rudd, Helen Marson-Smith, Clare Gardiner

15 July 2010

School admissions are clearly of central importance to parents, since they represent a major potential influence on a child’s life chances. They are also important and high profile for both local and national government, since these bodies will wish to demonstrate that such processes are fair, efficient and serve the best needs of their populations. This report sets out the findings from a recent investigation into the various approaches of local authorities (LAs) to the admissions process, including an overview of the challenges, barriers and facilitating factors connected to the various approaches used. The findings will be of interest to all those involved in school admissions in one way or another.

Summary: A theme that runs right through this report is that the admissions process, in most areas, has been improved year-upon-year, based on the experiences of school admissions officers and feedback from schools and parents, along with national developments such as greater coordination of the process and the refining of the national School Admissions Code. The next major challenge may be to ensure ‘joined-up-ness’ across an LA: school admissions are very important at the ‘micro’ level, in that they affect individual children and families, but there are also implications and ramifications at the ‘macro’ level of, for example, school improvement and safeguarding across an LA.

Key Findings

  • There were many similarities in the admissions processes and the time cycles described by LAs, for example, in terms of dates, procedures, collating applications and appeals procedures. In this respect, attempts to introduce greater uniformity and transparency across LA processes appear to have been successful.
  • The large majority of LAs were experiencing demographic pressures and increased demand for school places, at least ‘to some extent’. Several factors were identified as causing over-subscription, including an increasing birth rate and changing migration patterns, with the latter sometimes being linked to building and housing developments.
  • The point that LAs have to plan, not only for how many school places will be needed, but also for where these places will be needed, was stressed by admissions officers. It was not unusual to hear the comment that: ‘we have enough places, but not in the localities where we want them’. The difficulties in planning for this were compounded by economic uncertainty – would employment patterns continue as they were and would certain housing and building developments go ahead?