The Department for Education (DfE) has issued a revised School Admissions Code which will apply from 1 September 2021 to admissions to all maintained schools in England. Academies are required by their funding agreements to comply with the code, subject to variation by the Secretary of State when needed. The aim of the code is to ensure that all school places at maintained schools and academies are allocated in an open and fair way, and parents can easily understand how school places will be allocated.
Changes to the code
The most substantial of the changes to the code which will take effect from 01 September 2021 are:
- the inclusion of a clear process for managing in-year admissions
- improving the effectiveness of Fair Access Protocols
- clarifying the home address for children of service personnel and crown servants
Managing in-year admissions
The current version of the code fails to provide clarity for the management of in-year admissions. The updated code incorporates a new section dealing solely with in-year admissions, introducing timescales for different stages of the application and requirements for local authorities and admission authorities to provide information on the in-year application process to make it clearer for parents.
In terms of the new timescales, by 1 October 2021 own admission authority schools must inform the local authority whether they intend to be co-ordinated by the local authority. In subsequent years, the local authority must be notified by 1 August. By the same date, schools intending to be co-ordinated by the local authority must also provide the information that the local authority is required to publish on its website.
By 31 October 2021, local authorities must publish on their website details of the in-year application process and how applications will be dealt with in the academic year. In subsequent years this information will need to be published by 31 August, including details of schools which the local authority will co-ordinate and those which will manage their own in-year admissions, together with the necessary application forms.
Similarly, own admission authorities and governing bodies must publish on the school’s website by 31 October how in-year applications will be dealt with in the academic year. In all subsequent years this must be published by 31 August, explaining how parents can apply for a school place, providing an application form, and clarifying when parents will be notified of the outcome of their application and details about the right to appeal.
In addition to setting out timescales, the code states that, with the exception of designated grammar schools, all maintained schools and academies with available places must offer a place to every child who has applied, without condition or the use of any oversubscription criteria, unless doing so would prejudice the efficient provision of education or use of resources. Where an admission authority is dealing with multiple in-year admissions and does not have sufficient places for every applicant, they must only allocate places based on their oversubscription criteria.
The admission authority, or the local authority if it is co-ordinating the in-year admissions, should notify parents of the outcome of their application in writing within 15 school days, including any reason for refusal and information about the right to appeal. Where an offer is accepted for a school place following an in-year application, arrangements should be made for the child to start school as soon as possible.
Improving Fair Access Protocols
The current version of the code confirms that each local authority must have a Fair Access Protocol
to be used to ensure that unplaced children, especially the most vulnerable, are offered a place at a suitable school as quickly as possible. The current expectation includes the following groups of children in the list:
- children from the criminal justice system or Pupil Referral Units who need to be reintegrated into mainstream education
- children who have been out of education for two months or more
- children of Gypsies, Roma, Travellers, refugees, and asylum seekers
- children who are homeless
- children with unsupportive family backgrounds for whom a place has not been sought
- children who are carers
- children with SEN, disabilities, or medical conditions (but without a statement or Education, Health and Care Plan).
The updated code expands upon the existing groups of vulnerable children as follows:
- children subject to a Child in Need Plan or a Child Protection Plan (or having had one in the previous 12 months)
- children living in a refuge or other relevant accommodation
- children in alternative provision who need to be reintegrated into mainstream education or who have been permanently excluded but are deemed suitable for mainstream education
- children who are in formal kinship care arrangements
- children who have been refused a school place because of their challenging behaviour
- children for whom a place has not been sought due to exceptional circumstances
- children who have been out of education for four or more weeks (currently two months) where there are no places available at any school near their home
- previously looked after children where the local authority is unable to secure a school place.
The updated code also requires that, under the protocol, a place must be allocated within 20 school days. This is more onerous than the current requirement to place a child “as quickly as possible”.
Children of UK service personnel and crown servants
The current version of the Schools Admissions Code is unclear in respect of the home address to be used when considering an application in respect of a child of UK service personal and crown servants.
From 01 September 2021, for families of service personnel with a confirmed posting, or crown servants returning from overseas, admission authorities must allocate a place, if one is available, in advance of the family arriving in the area, provided the application is accompanied by an official letter that declares a relocation date.
In addition, admission authorities will be expected to use the address at which the child will live when applying their oversubscription criteria and support the government’s commitment to removing disadvantage for service children, whilst ensuring that they do not reserve blocks of places for these children.
It should be noted that the updated code is yet to received parliamentary approval, which the DfE expects will be received by 2 July 2021. However, admission authorities should consider the changes which will need to be made to their admission arrangements if/when parliamentary approval to the updated code is given in order that they can comply with the proposed changes.
Please contact Emma Swann on 03301 075 973 or [email protected] if you would like to discuss any of the points raised in this article or if you require any advice in relation to admission requirements in your maintained school or academy.