In response to the Covid-19 restrictions, the DfE has updated its non-statutory guidance “Coronavirus (COVID19): Advice on varying the admission arrangements of faith schools” which can be accessed here.
The guidance has been updated to guide admission authorities which consider it necessary to vary their 2022/23 admission arrangements, providing more detailed advice on the variation process. It applies to admission arrangements for entry in September 2022 and beyond.
Covid-19 and faith-based admissions
Admission authorities for schools which are designated as having a religious character may use faith-based oversubscription criteria in their admission arrangements. This means that if the school is oversubscribed, places may be allocated to children based on faith membership or practice.
Membership or practice of the faith may be defined as regular attendance by parents and their children at a place of worship over a specified period. However, because Covid-19 has restricted access to places of worship, many schools varied their admission arrangements for 2021 and schools may want to for 2022.
The process for varying admission arrangements
Usually, once admission arrangements have been determined for a particular academic year they cannot be revised. However, in accordance with the School Admissions Code 2014, variations may be proposed because of a major change in circumstances.
If an admission authority considers that it is necessary to vary its 2022 admission arrangements because of the closure or restriction of access to places of worship, it should initially contact the body representing the religion or religious denomination (for example, the Diocesan Board) which may be able to offer the school guidance and support.
In respect of academies, in-year variation should be sought from the relevant Regional Schools Commissioner, whilst in-year variation should be sought from the Schools Adjudicator for maintained schools. When requesting variations, admission authorities must:
- detail the major change which is deemed to necessitate the variation
- clarify exactly the changes requested and when they want the changes to take effect
- confirm that they have informed the relevant persons/bodies of the application
In addition, if the body representing the religion or religious denomination has provided views on the proposed variation, these views should be included in the application.
The Schools Adjudicator (or Regional Schools Commissioner) will consider the application. It will need to be satisfied that there has been a major change in circumstances since the arrangements were determined in February 2021, and that the changes requested have been kept to a minimum. Given that the Covid-19 pandemic is an exceptional event, it is likely that this would be a suitable justification for necessary changes to arrangements.
If the variation is approved, the changes must be published as revisions to the admission arrangements, and the amended arrangements must be displayed on the school’s website. The admission authority should inform its local authority of any changes, ensuring the body representing the religion or religious denomination is informed, and inform local parents of changes. The local authority should amend its online admissions prospectus to include the varied admission arrangements.
Although the admissions prospectus should be published by the local authority by 12 September 2021, it is possible for amendments to be made after this date. However, parents must have time to consider any varied admission arrangements before the closing date for applications (31 October 2021 for secondary schools and 15 January 2022 for primary schools).
Due to the time it might take to process numerous variations, requests should be submitted at the latest by the following dates:
- secondary schools: September 2021
- primary schools: November 2021
Admission authorities considering making changes to their admission arrangements for September 2022 entry should keep in mind that the process set out in the code would not allow them to revert to their previous arrangements for September 2023 unless they had already begun their consultation by 21 December 2021.