Admissions to Secondary School:
Towards a national policy?

By Anne West, Hazel Pennell & Philip Noden
Centre for Educational Research
London School of Economics and Political Science
May 1997

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Executive Summary

This discussion paper examines issues related to the introduction of a national framework for secondary school admissions. The process of admissions to secondary schools is described and relevant research studies discussed. Various proposals for changing schools’ admissions are explored before presenting the necessary characteristics of a ‘fair admissions policy’.

A number of features are required for such a policy, with the process needing:

  • to be transparent to all who use it;
  • to be predictable so that parents are able to assess the probability of their application being successful;
  • to be based on clear rights for parents and children;
  • to be able to be monitored;
  • to take account of how it would affect parents and pupils in other local schools;
  • to enable pupils to attend the nearest school if desired;
  • to enable pupils to have access to the same school as their sibling if desired.

To ensure that admissions policies fulfil these needs a number of proposals to improve the current system are made:

  • better information should be provided to aid parents making preferences for schools; this should include establishing independent education advice centres;
  • regulatory mechanisms should ensure that admissions are being carried out in accordance with published admissions criteria;
  • pre-admissions interviews should not be held;
  • a central clearing house should be established in large conurbations to administer or co-ordinate the admissions process;
  • the current fragmentation of schools’ admissions should be reduced by having the same general admissions process and timetable across the country;
  • selective admissions should be solely on the basis of written tests and not interviews;
  • appeals should be carried out by an independent body with clear, transparent procedures and fixed criteria for appeal.

Three models are proposed that could form the basis of a national admissions policy. These are based on models already functioning well in England – a catchment area model, a preference model and a modified preference model aimed at obtaining a balanced intake.
The consideration of these proposals will help to further the debate about how best to ensure that secondary school admissions are transparent, predictable and fair.

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