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Ruling over schools' admissions policy

CLLR LEYLAND RIDINGS: welcomed the ruling but said he did not accept the adjudicator’s criticism of KCC
CLLR LEYLAND RIDINGS: welcomed the ruling but said he did not accept the adjudicator’s criticism of KCC

FOUR non-selective secondary schools in Kent have been told they must not bring back a policy of giving greater priority to children who do not sit the 11-plus.

The Office of The Schools Adjudicator says the policy – known as conditionality - must be scrapped because it is unfair for the schools to discriminate against applications on the basis of other schools parents may choose to apply to.

It is the latest chapter in a series of wrangles about Kent admissions that have pitched non-selective schools against Kent County Council.

The schools are Tenterden’s Homewood, Mascalls School in Paddock Wood; St Gregory’s School in Tunbridge Wells and the Urusline College in Thanet.

But while the decision is a blow to the schools, KCC has also come under fire.

Although the Adjudicator upheld the county council’s objections to the four schools, he issued an unusually blunt warning to KCC.

He said there was “clear evidence” that senior County Hall politicians had not supported or accepted the admissions arrangements set for the authority by the Secretary of State.

Without that support, mistrust and anxiety continued between schools and the LEA – something that was “quite evidently” not in children’s interests and undermined relations between selective and non-selective schools.

The four schools had opted to re-introduce the policy next year because they maintained they were still being forced to reject applications from children who genuinely wanted a place to make way for those who had failed the 11-plus.

That was in spite of admissions arrangements supposedly designed to stop parents changing their minds and effectively being offered two choices.

The schools complained KCC had itself abused the county-wide admissions arrangement arrangements because senior county councillors had publicly encouraged parents to apply for grammar school places even if they had been offered a place at a non-selective school.

Although the Adjudicator accepted that had happened, he ruled: “An admission authority should consider the merits of its application to its school without taking into account any other applications a parent might have made.”

Schools could not allocate places by assuming parents might change their minds at a later stage because it was “inconsistent with the rules of natural justice,” he added.

There has been a mixed reaction to the news. In a statement, the governors of Homewood School expressed disappointment but said they were but not entirely surprised.

“In a county as complex as Kent, goodwill is required on all sides if the admissions system is to work in the best interests of parents and children. The adjudicator has recognised many of the difficulties experienced by parents this year have stemmed from irresponsible public statements by senior KCC politicians.”

Cllr Leyland Ridings (Con), cabinet member for schools organisation, welcomed the ruling but said he did not accept the adjudicator’s criticism of KCC was valid.

It was important parents – particularly those of “bordeline” 11-plus children, knew all the circumstances that would allow them to make the best choices, he said.

He stressed that KCC had abided by the admissions arrangements and operated them lawfully.

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