Academy growth to affect admissions, Telford councillor claims
Council control of school admissions risks being watered down by the growth of academies, a party leader has warned.
Telford and Wrekin’s cabinet approved new criteria for assigning places at schools where the council controls admission.
These give preferential treatment to children who are in care, adopted, receiving the pupil premium or related to school staff.
But Liberal Democrat leader Bill Tomlinson pointed out that schools that switch to academy status are not obliged to adopt these rules, leaving the borough with “virtually no say” over who they take.
Councillor Shirley Reynolds, the cabinet member for education in the Labour-run administration, said the new policy would apply from 2020.
She said: “These new arrangements have been produced after full consultation in line with our statutory duties for the transfer arrangements at Year Three and again at Year Seven.
“I’m delighted to see the inclusion of children who have previously been in care as well as the pupil premium children.
“Caring for our most vulnerable children is paramount, and it’s great that it’s now at the heart of our admissions policy.
“I think the inclusion of staff children, while some might think this shouldn’t be included, is actually a very important asset.
“It enables us to recruit new teachers and retain the very best.”
Councillor Bill Tomlinson, who leads the Liberal Democrat and Independent group on Telford and Wrekin Council and attends cabinet meetings as a non-voting observer, asked: “When schools become academies, do they have to opt in to our admissions policy or can they simply have their own?
“As much as we would like to set the zones and where the kids can go, if those secondary schools have got their own admissions policy and don’t wish to opt in, we’ve virtually got no say over where these kids go.
“The reason I ask that is partly because councillors can get some stick for admissions policies, and I don’t think people are fully aware, either in Telford & Wrekin or nationally, that control by the local authority of admissions policy is being watered down and almost coming away.”
Councillor Reynolds distanced herself from the phrase “losing control”, but said: “If the school is an academy then they can choose to have their own admissions arrangements, which is why I said it was the voluntary and controlled schools.
“We can advise but they choose their own admissions policy and we administer it for them, but we have to adhere by their policy.”
In her report, education and corporate parenting chief Heather Loveridge noted that “a number of schools and academies for whom the local authority is not the admission authority have also indicated they would be willing to change their oversubscription criteria in line with these proposals.”
Report by Alex Moore, local democracy reporter