Academies may give priority to poorest children

POPULAR schools will be allowed to expand to take on more pupils while a new wave of independently run state schools will be encouraged to give priority to children from the poorest households in sweeping reforms of the admissions code.

Ministers have launched a consultation over proposals to get academies and free schools to prioritise children eligible for free school meals – meaning those whose parents earn more than £16,000 could be squeezed out.

The plan is to allow these schools to recruit more children who attract the pupil premium – additional funding given to schools to educate those from the poorest backgrounds. Academies are state schools which have opted out of council control to become directly funded by Government while free schools are being set up by groups of teachers and parents with public money.

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An organisation representing head teachers claimed the Government’s new plans would lead to “another generation of haves and have-nots” and cause pupils to “lose out on life chances”.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said allowing free schools to prioritise students taking free school meals was an “arbitrary measure” and unlikely to have an impact on the majority of low-income families.

He also warned that allowing popular schools to expand would do nothing to improve social mobility. He added: “It will create sink schools in many areas of deprivation and hit hardest those children whose parents do not or cannot take an interest in their education. Those schools left with the most challenging pupils, who need the most intensive support, will suffer a slow spiral of decline and their pupils will lose out on life chances. The effect will be another generation of haves and have-nots.”

Chris Keates, general secretary of teaching union NASUWT, said the revised code could lead to an expansion of grammar schools and accused the Government of “deceiving the public” over claims it was not beefing up the selective system. “A cursory glance at the code demonstrates that once again the public are not being told the whole truth on school admissions. Forget about selection by the back door. This is selection by the front door.”

The new proposals announced by Education Secretary Michael Gove yesterday include:

Increasing the number of places available in good schools by making it easier for popular establishments to take more pupils

Giving priority to children of school staff when a school is over-subscribed

Allowing children of armed forces personnel, twins and other multiple-birth children to be admitted into infant classes even if doing so takes the class over the 30-pupil limit and

Banning local authorities from using area-wide lotteries to allocate places.

The new code will also give parents more freedom to report schools if they suspect unfair selection has taken place.

Mr Gove claimed the current system “rationed good schools”.

He said: “We want to cut the red tape that has stopped good schools expanding. We want to make various specific changes to help servicemen and teachers. Together with our other reforms, these changes will help give all children the chance of world-class schools.”

The reforms have been welcomed by a body representing state schools with greater freedoms. Helen Hyde, president of the Foundation, Aided Schools and Academies National Association, said the new code was a “significant improvement” on the previous system.

She said: “Our member schools seek greater autonomy in order to improve the educational achievement of children and respond to the needs of the community in appropriate ways. We consider that these updated codes will help schools do exactly that.”