ASCL proposes overhaul of school admissions to prioritise disadvantaged pupils

The Association of School and College Leaders today proposes a potential change to school admissions in England to give priority to places for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
It is among a series of measures in our Blueprint for a Fairer Education System which also includes reforms to SATs, GCSEs and the national curriculum.

The proposals are aimed at closing the long-standing gap in the attainment of children from disadvantaged backgrounds compared to their peers.

It is estimated that this gap will take over 500 years to close at the current rate and that this bleak picture has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Our blueprint suggests a review of school admissions to consider the potential benefits of requiring schools to prioritise in their oversubscription criteria places for children who are eligible for the pupil premium or are in persistent poverty. There is already a similar requirement for children in care.

The proposal is designed to address the fact that popular schools rated as outstanding or good by Ofsted are often oversubscribed and located in middle-class areas which can make places at these schools hard to access for pupils from disadvantaged communities.

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Middle-class parents have the buying power to afford homes in areas near popular schools that are rated as good or outstanding. We may not necessarily agree with the way that Ofsted ratings work but this is the reality.

“There are, of course, many excellent schools in disadvantaged areas too, but the economics of property ownership mean that disadvantaged families don’t have the same access as middle-class parents to certain schools. This is an entrenched injustice which reinforces an unhealthy division between affluent and disadvantaged areas and children.

“We have to do more to support schools in challenging circumstances, so that there is a school rated as good or outstanding on every doorstep, but we must also see how we might provide parents and children from disadvantaged backgrounds with fairer access to popular schools in more affluent areas.

“This is something we can do sooner rather than later without waiting for slow incremental change or spending huge amounts of money. We recognise this suggestion would require detailed consideration about exactly how a change of this nature to the school admissions code would work, but we believe the possibilities are worth exploring.

“A government which constantly talks about levelling up should certainly give this serious consideration

Other recommendations in our blueprint include:
  • Review the national curriculum to ensure it focuses on fewer things in greater depth and leaves enough space in the school day for schools to develop their own complementary local curriculum, and make this core curriculum mandatory for all state schools. 
  • Replace Key Stage 2 SATs taken by children towards the end of primary school with adaptive assessments which make greater use of technology to ensure assessments are more intelligent and personalised, and enable all children to demonstrate what they can do.
  • Reform GCSEs to reduce the massive number of terminal exams taken by pupils during their final summer at secondary school by reintroducing some ongoing assessment over the course of a qualification and making greater use of technology in assessment.
  • Extend the pupil premium for supporting disadvantaged pupils to include 16-19 year olds, and reform funding for pupils who have special educational needs so that the system is simpler, clearer and better resourced.
  • Overhaul school performance tables so that they provide parents with a broad range of measures beyond exam and assessment results and take in aspects like exclusion rates and the breadth of the curriculum that is provided.

Mr Barton said: “These proposals are deliberately designed to be eminently do-able. They build on what is largely a good education system with targeted proposals which we believe would make the system work better for all children and young people.

“We propose streamlining the cluttered curriculum, modernising assessment and exams, providing extra funding for the children and young people who most need that support, and making school performance tables more meaningful for parents and pupils

There’s nothing new about the attainment gap between rich and poor. We’ve been talking about it for years. But we’re still not making anything like the progress that is needed in closing that gap and we can’t expect to keep doing the same thing and expect different results. It is time for change.”