FOI by Summer Born Campaign group reveals Local Authority Disagreement, Confusion & Postcode Lottery

c artwork for cufflink april 2011In response to a Freedom of Information request (Nov.6) by a member of the Summer Born Campaign group, Gemma Adams received (Nov.27) a copy of local authority and public responses to the DfE’s consultation of proposed changes to its School Admissions Code (closed Sep.29).

Even the briefest glance at all these responses makes the inconsistency, confusion, subjectivity and postcode lottery for summer born admissions abundantly clear, as evidenced in the extracts quoted below (or click on the documents):

[ LOCAL AUTHORITY RESPONSES ]*
[ PUBLIC RESPONSES ]

It’s interesting just how many local authorities simply dismiss the fact that compulsory school age is what it is – i.e. the term following a child’s 5th birthday – and while there are a number of valid points raised about when applications should be made and how many, the pressure on parents to apply for and enrol their children in school at age 4 is very clear.

Disagreement is rife in terms of policy, principle, procedures and the role of parents:(*Please Note, for ease of reference, in the Local Authority document, I have highlighted in YELLOW responses with support for greater parental choice, PURPLE responses with opposition to this, and GREY responses with concerns about confusion, inconsistency, administration and the need for greater clarity.)

Hampshire County Council: “In its proposed state, it is difficult: • for parents to understand the threshold to being given approval to apply for decelerated admission of their summer born child. • for headteachers to provide an informed view about a child they do not know, eighteen months in advance of the child being due to start school; • for admission authorities to defend refusing their decision. If it is intended that admission to Year R is to be so flexible, then the Code should state that Admission authorities should simply go with the parental preference. This would provide a consistent process for parents of summer born children. It would also save LA/GB and headteacher time spent on of considering requests for which there is no clear guidance.

Cheshire East Council: “Support the need to agree admission to reception, and not year one, of summer born children… Perhaps the Code should simply allow parents the right to request ‘dealyed entry’ and that, in such cases, the admission authority or local authority should simply be required to offer advice as a mandatory requirement, leaving the parent to decide on what is right for their child.

Hertfordshire County Council: “Unfortunately rapid introduction of non-statutory guidance in July 2013 and the current proposal to ensure “headteachers views are taken into account” appear to be driven by a desire to provide parents with more information/ammunition rather than clarifying the decision making process or an understanding the complexity of the allocation process in an equal preference system. If the government wishes to allow, as the norm, all summer born children to apply for a Reception place a year late, the legislation should be amended accordingly. It is not appropriate for the DfE to exert pressure on LAs on their decision making in individual cases. The current and proposed Codes are clear that these decisions remain in the hands of the relevant admission authority and it would be helpful if DfE officers reiterated this fact to parents when investigating individual complaints.

Kent County Council: “The significant challenge here is that there is a distinction to be made between children ready for school able to be taught alongside their peers and parents who are not yet ready for their child to start school because of their anxieties, and children for whom it would genuinely not be in their best interest to be in school. Where the former is the case, parents invariably will not be best placed to take that decision objectively… KCC’s preferred solution which would provide far greater clarity to process would be for children (without a statement or EHCP) to be required to apply at the correct time associated with their chronological age group regardless of their individual needs.

Portsmouth City Council: “In our experience, most of the requests to defer are not really in the child’s best interests but are related to parent anxieties and separation issues…

Plymouth City Council: “Presently, numbers are small and manageable but this could be due to lack of publicity. Once published, the numbers could become unmanageable and parents may use this as an opportunity to have ‘two bites of the cherry’ when seeking a place in a particular school as there would be nothing to prevent an application in 2 years. This would then be unfair to those who not summer born and for this reason, this LA would not be supportive of this change in its current format. There needs to be a provision to prevent application in 2 separate years.

(Note: Numerous councils raised this concern, which is a valid one, but of course if the DfE was not advising parents to apply for a Reception place at age 4 ‘just in case‘ their request is refused, this would not be happening and there might be greater support. One parental choice (CSA or not), one application, in one year, means one bite of the cherry.)

Bracknell Forest Council: “For parents completing an application there may be a number of different admission authorities involved and so there may be different decisions. How can the application be processed without knowing which school will be offered and whether they have agreed or not to the request.

Sheffield City Council: “The Guidance is clear that the assumption is to approve a parental request unless there is reason not to. This principle is fully supported as it is recognised that the wishes of parents should be given priority.

The draft 2014 School Admissions Code is currently with Parliament…

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13 Responses to FOI by Summer Born Campaign group reveals Local Authority Disagreement, Confusion & Postcode Lottery

  1. Gem says:

    It’s crazy how we are expected to accept this postcode lottery. LEA’s are desperately in need of clear, water tight instructions or else we end up with a different system in each county. It so simple, just let the parents, who know the child best, decide when they start school
    !

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  2. Catherine Mackinlay says:

    Please also refer to the FOI from the OSA which indicates that the OSA does not understand the current law and the role of LA in the decision making process…

    Like

  3. Susan King says:

    Its madness, the government absolutely must take action to resolve this postcode lottery. In this group of responses though I am especially saddened by Kents response for two reasons. 1. they actively suggest that the individual needs of the child should be the lowest priority decision making criteria and secondly they state that every child should be required to apply for a school place in their “correct” chronological year group, again showing that they have completely forgotten that to require them to apply for the september after they turn four still contradicts the law as is it currently stands. Compulsory school age in the UK remains the term after the child’s 5th birthday, not the term after their 4th arggghh!

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