Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council

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Cabinet Decision: 14th February 2008
Title of Item/Report
Procedure for Admission of Pupils to Primary & Secondary Schools in September 2009
Record of the Decision
Members considered a report that outlined the proposed admission arrangements for primary and secondary schools in September 2009.

The Code of Practice for admissions determined that Local Authorities (LAs), when drawing up admission arrangements, should ensure:

• Parents' preferences for schools are met to the maximum extent possible;
• Admission criteria should be clear and benefit all pupils including those with special education needs, disabilities or in public care;
• Admission authorities must publish admission arrangements to include admission numbers, criteria to be used for over-subscription, timetables, co-ordinated arrangements and waiting lists.

Members were advised that there were no changes to the LAs admission policy for 2009/10.

The LA was responsible for administering a co-ordinated scheme for its area in relation to all maintained (community, voluntary controlled and voluntary aided) schools. The purpose of co-ordinated admission scheme was to ensure that, as far as was reasonably practicable, every parent of a child living in the LA area who has applied for a school place in the normal admission round received an offer of one school place on the same day.

It was advised that the LA would act as a clearing house for the allocation of places by the relevant admission authorities in response to the Common Application Forms (CAFs). The LA would only make a decision with respect to the offer or refusal of a place in response to any preference expressed on the CAF where
• it was acting in its separate capacity as an admission authority; or
• an applicant was eligible for a place at more than one school, or
• an applicant was not eligible for a place at any school that the parent had nominated.

Members were provided with a copy of the Stockton on Tees Co-ordinated Admission Scheme for admissions in 2009/10 which included the timetable. The published admission numbers for Community and Voluntary Aided (VA)
Primary and Secondary schools were also presented to Members.

It was explained that for admissions in 2007, consultation had taken place with regard to changing the LA policy to a single intake into reception, the result of the consultation was inconclusive so there had been no change. However, a significant number of schools had continued to request that the policy be changed. There were six VA schools already managing one reception intake, and schools considered that it created an imbalance within the community as it did not provide equal opportunity for all children when parents/carers were considering which primary school to send their child to. It was for this reason that the LA consulted again for admissions in 2009 and asked schools to respond more effectively.

It was noted that the majority of the Local Authorities within the Tees Valley, as well as Durham and North Yorkshire, operated a system of one intake - Middlesbrough gave individual schools a choice.

There were changes in legislation extending the hours of free nursery education over the next few years, which would ultimately be 20 hours per week. Parents/carers would also be able to take these hours at times that suited them, spread over at least three days. If younger four year olds were able to move from part-time nursery (with flexible hours) to full-time school (with fixed hours) the burden of this change would be reduced for one term every year.

It was explained that the law required that children start full-time school no later than the beginning of the term following their fifth birthday. Local policy in Stockton on Tees allowed them to start before they reached five, at ages ranging from 4 years 4 months to 4 years 11 months. Parents may choose to defer a child's admission until the statutory school age if they felt that their child was not ready for full time school. It was advised that research had shown that the older children had an advantage that persisted for some years. It had been impossible to demonstrate whether this could be attributed to the extra term in reception or just to the age difference itself, but it was thought that younger children were being put at a disadvantage by the Council's admission policy.

The result of the recent consultation with governors showed that out of the 44 primary community schools, 28 opted to change to a single reception intake, 10 wanted to remain as 2 intakes and 6 schools made no decision. Members were advised that in percentage terms the result was:

64% - 1 reception intake (proposed change of policy - September only)
23% - 2 reception intake (current policy - September and January)
13% - no decision recorded

The result had been discussed with the Children's Trust Management Team and it was proposed that the policy should be changed to one intake for reception for future admissions from 2009.

It was explained that the LA proposed to change the policy on the way distances were measured when a school was oversubscribed to ‘as the crow flies', as it was considered that this would give more clarity to parents. The distances would be measured from a point at the front gate of the property to the front gate of the school by a straight line using an electronic system of measuring. It was considered that it would be more efficient for the administrative process when allocating school places now that the LA was using Equal Ranking as the measurements would be able to be completed on the existing system currently used. The result of the governors consultation came out as 95% approval of the change and for it to be changed from 2009.

The current policy on measuring distances when a school was oversubscribed, was by the shortest public-access route and an electronic system was used. Members were advised that there were a number of disadvantages in using this option e.g. keeping information up to date, users of the electronic measurement system needed to have local knowledge to ensure shortest route was taken, different users could interpret the measurement in an alternative way, even the point where a road was crossed could give a different measurement. It was noted that the LA had been challenged on a number of occasions with regard to measurements at appeal and occasionally the appeal panel had supported the parents' case.

The new policy would be implemented for admissions from September 2009, any through year transfers would still operate the admission arrangements for the relevant year of admission and so the current system of measurement would still be used for those applications. It was advised that it would be 2013 before the system would be fully operational in all year groups.

Members were advised of a proposal to increase the clothing grant for secondary age pupils. The clothing grant was a discretionary function for the Local Authority (LA). It was considered that the grant was an important support for the more vulnerable families in Stockton on Tees. The proposal to increase the grant had been put before the Children's Trust Management Team who agreed to the change as long as it came within the set budget.

It was explained that the grant was 25 per child attending secondary school in Years 7, 8, 9 and 10 and the family needed to be in receipt of the same benefits as those for free school meals eligibility. It was noted that parents often felt that the grant should be available for pupils in Year 11 as they felt that this was the time when children had grown more and were need of new uniform.

It was advised that for the past 3 years, there had been a decline in the number of grants even though the LA had advertised the grant to try and reach those families not aware of its availability. Due to this, the budget allocation had been reduced over the years. The proposal was therefore to increase the grant to 30 and include Year 11 pupils in order to maximise the budget spend.

Members were advised that the LA had consulted all school governing bodies, the Diocese, other neighbouring Local Authorities and the Admission Forum on the proposals for admissions in September 2009 and the 2 changes in policy. The document had also been displayed on the Stockton on Tees website inviting comments from other users. No objections had been received.

The LA also consulted parents to get their views on the admissions process, the results of which were published in the Admissions Booklets provided to parents when applying for a primary or secondary school place. The responses gave an average of 98% satisfaction levels from parents and the comments/suggestions helped the LA to develop new practices to continue to improve the service.

RESOLVED that:-

1. the Admission Policy for oversubscribed schools and Co-ordinated Admission Arrangements for 2009/10 be agreed.

2. the policy change to one single intake for reception for all community primary schools be agreed.

3. the policy change to measure distances in a straight line (‘crow flies') as a way of allocating places, when a school is over-subscribed be agreed.

4. the policy to raise the level of Clothing Grants from 25 to 30 for secondary age children in Years 7, 8, 9, 10 and to include Year 11 be agreed.
Reasons for the Decision
Legislation requires the LA to publish information to be available for parents when they apply for a place at primary and secondary school. The information has to comply with the recently published School Admissions Code derived from the Education & Inspections Bill 2006.

Raising the level of the School Clothing Grant for secondary pupils and including Year 11 pupils will assist the more vulnerable families who are on low incomes. The level of grant has not been changed since 1996.
Alternative Options Considered and Rejected
None
Declared (Cabinet Member) Conflicts of Interest
Councillors Mrs Beaumont, Cook, Cunningham and Nelson declared personal non prejudicial interests in the item as they were Governors of the Schools affected by the decision.
Details of any Dispensations
Not Applicable
Date and Time by which Call In must be executed
By no later than midnight on Friday 22nd February 2008
Attachment

Date of Publication: 18 February 2008


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