The Office of the School Adjudicator’s (OSA) response to the DfE’s draft revised Schools Admission Code is the latest document to demonstrate just how UNCLEAR the CODE really is.
Responses from different local authorities, members of the public, and now the OSA, all prove that the proposed 2014 Code (just like the 2012 Code) is neither “clear, fair nor objective” for summer born admissions, with the OSA’s interpretation directly contradicting views expressed by the Department for Education and existing admissions legislation:
“7. 5. Proposals relating to summer born children – The proposed text should help to clarify the position for parents. There may be a danger that being educated out of the relevant age group is thought of as an option rather than as an exceptional provision. It may be prudent to include wording that strengthens the position that it is an exception for children to be admitted outside their normal age group.”
The DfE has repeatedly stated, “there does not need to be any exceptional reason or special need for a summer-born child to enter reception rather than Y1 at compulsory school age”, but instead of biting the bullet and making this CLEAR in the Code, it leaves the OSA and many local authorities with the exact opposite impression.
Also “16. Paragraph 1.9h) could be clearer as it could be taken to imply that admission outside the normal group is just an option and not an exceptional arrangement. It implies the decision made in the circumstances described in paragraphs 2.17 A and B is made by the admission authority when the norm is that the headteacher will invariably make such decisions when a child is in the school.”
The revised Code does not ‘imply’ that the decision is to made by the admission authority, it very explicitly states that the decision is to be made by the admission authority, which is also the case in the current Code.
The OSA is the very body that parents contact to refer an objection about admission arrangements which they believe do not conform with the School Admissions Code, and yet the OSA itself appears to be misinterpreting the Code.
True, there is an entrenched view that all children should start school prior to Compulsory School Age – unless there are exceptional reasons for them not to do so – but no matter what the OSA perceives as ‘the norm’, it is not there to adjudicate on what happens in practice despite the Code (or despite primary legislation for that matter), it is there to adjudicate whether or not admission arrangements comply with the Code.
And for this, the Code needs to be Clear – otherwise we end up in the same situation as earlier this year when another organisation charged with adjudicating admissions matters (the Local Government Ombudsman) determined that primary school applications for summer born children entering Reception at CSAge can be put to the bottom of the pile until all 4 year-olds are allocated places first.
The famous Sir Walter Scott quote comes to mind as all this new information is unearthed: “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive.“
And while the Code may not be intended to deceive, it is blatantly open to misinterpretation, despite the OSA’s opening consultation comments:
“Adjudicators have noted that the changes are primarily intended to provide greater freedom and that some changes are to improve clarity.”
Yes, we wish…
(Written by Pauline Hull and Michelle Melson)