On 13 May 2021, following a consultation that took place between 26 June 2020 and 16 October 2020, the government published a new School Admissions Code (the “Code”). The Code, which is currently subject to Parliamentary scrutiny, comes into force on 1 September 2021 and will apply with immediate effect.
For schools that are their own admission authorities, this means that previously determined admission arrangements for admission in September 2021 and September 2022 will require to be updated to provide for new mandatory requirements of the Code (which means that the approval of the ESFA (for academies) or the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (for maintained schools) will not be needed), and more detailed information will be required to be published on the school’s website, together with providing additional information to the local authority.
The best way for admissions authorities to make the changes is to arrange a meeting of the board (or the committee if responsibility for admissions has been delegated) before 31 August 2021 to make the necessary variations to the admission arrangements. If the meeting takes place before the Code has been approved by Parliament (which should happen around 1 July), the resolution must be conditional on the Code passing through Parliament and come into effect on 1 September 2021.
Admissions arrangements for September 2023 (which need to be determined by 28 February 2022) will also need to incorporate the changes.
What are the main changes?
Looked After Children and Previously Looked After Children
As anticipated following the consultation process, the requirement in respect of Previously Looked After children for highest priority in over-subscription criteria is now extended to include children who appear to the admission authority to have been in state care outside of England and were adopted. The Code clarifies that all references to Previously Looked After children in the Code now also includes these children.
This means that all determined admissions arrangements will now require updating to ensure that highest priority in over-subscription criteria is given to this group of children, as part of the Looked -After, Previously Looked After group of children. Pursuant to paragraph 2.5 of the Code admission authorities are permitted to request evidence that demonstrates that the child was in state care outside of England prior to being adopted.
Children of UK Service Personnel and Crown Servants
There has long been concern that children of UK service personnel and crown servants returning to England have not been able to secure school places in a timely fashion due to their inability to provide an address from which the application can be processed.
The Code has now been amended to provide more flexibility for admission authorities in this respect. In addition, the Code now provides that for families of service personnel with a confirmed posting, or crown servants returning from overseas, admission authorities must:
- allocate a place in advance of the family arriving in the area (as long as one is available), provided the application is accompanied by an official letter that declares a relocation date. Admission authorities must not refuse to process an application and must not refuse a place solely because the family do not yet have an intended address, or do not yet live in the area;
- use the address at which the child will live when applying their oversubscription criteria, as long as the parents provide some evidence of their intended address.
In addition, admission authorities are required to use a Unit or quartering address as the child’s home address when considering the application against their oversubscription criteria, where a parent requests this.
Admission authorities are now also placed under a general duty to ensure that arrangements in their area support the Government’s commitment to removing disadvantage for service children and that arrangements are appropriate for the area and described in the local authority’s composite prospectus. This will necessarily require more liaison with the local authority in order to ensure that the duty is discharged by each individual admission authority; we would suggest that this is done through the Schools Forum, although there is nothing in the Code on a practical level to support the requirement to discharge this duty.
The consultation that took place was keen to ensure that the most vulnerable children are not left for indeterminate periods of time without access to a school place, to this end the new Admissions Code contains prescribed time periods for dealing with both In-year admissions and those subject to Fair Access Protocols.
Own admission authorities are required to supply the local authority with specified information to enable them to either co-ordinate in-year applications or provide parents with up to date relevant information.
From 2021 the local authority is required to publish on its website by 31 October 2021 information to explain how in-year applications can be made and how they will be dealt with during the period 1 November 2021 – 31 August 2022. In all subsequent years the local authority must publish this information on its website by 31 August at the latest, to take effect from 1 September.
The information will set out which schools the local authority will co-ordinate the applications for and which schools will manage their own in-year admissions, together with contact details for any school that manages its own in-year admissions.
To enable this to happen in 2021, own admission authorities must inform the local authority whether they intend to be part of the local authority co-ordinated scheme for the period to 31 August 2022 by 1 October 2021, in all subsequent years this information must be provided by 1 August at the latest.
In addition, schools are required to publish on their website by 31 October 2021 how in-year applications will be dealt with, and in all subsequent years by 1 August at the latest. They must set out how parents can apply for a school place, and, where they manage their own in-year admissions, provide a suitable application form for parents to complete (and a supplementary information form where necessary), and set out when parents will be notified of the outcome of their application and details about the right to appeal if a place is refused. If the admission authority is to be a part of the local authority’s in-year co-ordination scheme, it must provide information on where parents can find details of the relevant scheme. An admission authority or local authority is required to provide a hard copy of the information about in-year applications on request.
Local authorities are required on request to provide information to parents about the places still available in all schools within their area. To enable them to do this, the admission authorities for all schools in the area must provide the local authority with details of the number of places available at their schools whenever this information is requested. Such details should be provided no later than two school days following receipt of a request from the local authority.
Upon receipt of an in-year application, the admission authority, or the local authority if it is co-ordinating the admissions authority’s in-year admissions, should aim to notify the parents of the outcome of their application in writing within 10 school days; they must be notified in writing within 15 school days. Where an application is refused the admission authority must set out the reason for this and also provide details of the right to appeal.
Where an admissions authority manages its own in-year admissions it must inform the local authority of every application and its outcome as soon as reasonably practicable; the Code provides that the aim should be to provide this notification within two school days.
Where an applicant is offered a school place following an in-year application, and the offer is accepted, arrangements should be made for the child to start school as soon as possible.
Fair Access Protocols
There was much concern ahead of the consultation that Fair Access Protocols (FAPs) were not being used properly of efficiently which was leading to vulnerable children remaining out of school provision for, in some cases, substantial amounts of time, whilst schools debated their admission with the local authority and the Schools Forum.
The proposed amendments contained in the consultation were, it was said, to help ensure FAPs are not misused to the detriment of either children or schools, prompt quicker decision making and ensure vulnerable children are placed in school in a more timely manner, as the process intended.
The new arrangements now found in the Admissions Code provides that the Protocol must be consulted upon and developed in partnership with all schools in its area. Once the Protocol has been agreed by the majority of schools in its area, all admission authorities must participate in it. Participation includes making available a representative who is authorised to participate in discussions, make decisions on placing children via the Protocol, and admitting pupils when asked to do so in accordance with the Protocol, even when the school is full.
The Code makes clear that the Protocol should only be used to place specified groups of children (Paragraph 3.17) where they are having difficulty in securing a school place in-year, and it can be demonstrated that reasonable measures have been taken to secure a place through the usual in-year admission procedures.
Where it has been agreed that a child will be considered under the Fair Access Protocol, a school place must be allocated for that child within 20 school days. Once they have been allocated a school place via the Fair Access Protocol, arrangements should be made for the child to start at the school as soon as possible.
Local Authority Reports
Local authorities are now required to produce an annual report on admissions for all the schools in their area for which they co-ordinate admissions. From 2022, it must be published locally and sent to the Schools Adjudicator by 31 October each year covering the prior academic year. The report must cover as a minimum:
- information about how admission arrangements in the area of the local authority serve the interests of looked after children and previously looked after children, children with disabilities and children with special educational needs, including any details of where problems have arisen;
- an assessment of the effectiveness of Fair Access Protocols including how many children were admitted to each school under it; and
- any other issues the local authority may wish to include.
It can be seen that the new admissions code has delivered on its promise to deal with the most vulnerable children in a timely manner by imposing time frames for actions to take place, however, as ever, the reality may prove very different from that which is required due to the numerous other pressures that are facing schools at this time.
As well as updating your admissions policy to incorporate the above changes, now is a good time to start thinking about a general review of your admissions arrangements, especially if you wish to consult in the autumn on other changes to your policy for September 2023.
For further information about how we can provide ongoing support to your School or MAT with the admissions process, consultation or amendment of over-subscription criteria, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 0345 070 7437.