Curbing complaints re schools admission criteria is ‘affront to democracy’, campaigners say

Janet Downs's picture

Imagine a world where only the victims of a crime could complain to the police and where witnesses to a crime would be banned from reporting the incident.

That’s the world Education Secretary Nicky Morgan wants to create.  She’s acting after the Schools Adjudicator, Dr Elizabeth Passmore, said objections to admission arrangements for schools should be reviewed and ‘possibly be limited to those with proper standing for making an objection’.

The term ‘proper standing’ is not defined in the Adjudicator's annual report but a Department for Education press release says objections to admission criteria would be restricted to ‘local parents’.  Banning objections from outside the ‘local area’ would help in ‘unclogging the admissions system’.

This curb, the DfE says, would stop ‘vexatious complaints against faith schools from secularist campaign groups’ – objections which the Adjudicator said had contributed to the extra cost of running the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) in the last academic year.

But the claim that complaints from the British Humanist Association (BHA) and Fair Admissions Campaign (FCA) were ‘vexatious’ is false.   They would only be vexatious if OSA had thrown the objections out.  But OSA did not.  BHA and FAC objected to admission criteria in a representative sample of nearly 50 faith schools.  OSA found ‘near universal non-compliance’.

It’s true the cost of running OSA rose last year.  But this wasn’t just because of the alleged vexatious objections.   Part of the extra cost was because the London Oratory, which has had objections against its criteria upheld on at least two occasions, requested a Judicial Review.   The Court overruled OSA in some respects but ruled some OSA conclusions had been ‘lawful’.  Another cause was a backlog of cases brought forward from the previous academic year.

The Schools Admission Code is backed by law.  Any infringements break the law.  Those who consider a school or local authority is not complying with the Code should be able to continue to object.  Restricting this right to local parents would mean that far more breaches would go unnoticed.  

Morgan says her changes would allow parents to have a ‘greater say in the schools admission process’.    That’s because schools which are their own admission authorities (OAAs) would have to consult every four years about their criteria, she says.   The present Code requires OAAs to consult every seven years unless they plan changes.  Consultation then takes place before the changes are made. 

It’s unclear how making OAAs consult more frequently will ‘sweep away admissions bureaucracy’ as the Government claims.

Morgan’s plans to restrict lawful objections is an “affront to both democracy and the rule of law” says the BHA and the National Secular Society.  And it raises the question why the Government wishes to put in place a system which would allow breaches of the law to go undetected.

The Government plans to consult on the changes ‘in due course’.





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