Friday, 19 November 2010

Why Academies (or Any School) Shouldn't Control Their Own Admissions

Here's the lead story from the front page of my local free sheet newspaper:

"A disabled 11-year-old girl has been rejected by an academy school because she poses a “health and safety risk” to other children.

Idayah Miller, from Norbury, was told she could not go to the elite Harris Academy in Crystal Palace because her wheelchair would restrict the movement of other children in the crowded corridors.

In a letter to her parents, headteacher Steve Kenning also said the little girl would suffer low self-esteem because her “academic ability is quite low” and Harris is “a high pressure, high performing academy” where she would struggle to keep up with her friends"

The school's primary admissions criteria seem to be based on a banding system structured by distance, although the precise nature of the banding test, and what proportions of clever/middling/less clever kids they take, is not very clear. 10% of places are reserved for those with a 'aptitude' for technology, the school's specialism. The admission of kids with Special Education Needs (SEN) is described as 'a concession', even though all schools are legally obliged to take a certain proportion of such children unless they can show good reason otherwise.

Plainly, this case would seem to be a decision which offends against the Disability Discrimination Act. But I'm aware of the perils of making legal judgements on specific cases based only on newspaper headlines, so I'll leave that one to the lawyers.

I want to ask a broader question about admissions. 'Banding' is, in certain defined circumstances, especially in big cities, a perfectly reasonable way of allocating school places. It just means you test them and then, assuming equal proportions of kids with different ability levels have applied to different schools, allocate them places which leave each school with a broadly similar entry cohort. It can be a way of attempting to slow down the drift back towards a covert form of the old Grammar/Secondary Modern divide which is so evident in so many inner city areas.

But doesn't this case illustrate that if you let individual schools do the banding that they'll just use it as means of covert selection and rejection of 'low ability' pupils? As someone comments in the local newspaper article - would the school have rejected Stephen Hawking if he was in a wheelchair?

Meet the Academy Sponsor: Cameron's favourite carpet fitter it would appear.

I'd quite like it if one of the more mainstream leftie blogs picked this up, so I'm going to link to Liberal Conspiracy, Hopi (who, like me, doesn't live that far away), TCF and Don Paskini in the hope of attracting more coverage of this case and the general issue.


  1. Christ, Charlie. That's really shocking. It reads to me like a case of old fashioned discrimination. What would disability action groups make of it?

  2. I suspect we're going to find out quite soon Rab: from the press reports it seems to have all the makings of a cause celebre for the Disability lobby.

    But my point is, I suppose, we have a system in place (DDA etc) which can deal with bastards discriminating against disabled people and if that's happened here I hope it is activated.

    But if what's going on is actually just discrimination on grounds of apparent intelligence to keep the school's exam scores up at the expense of other local schools what's in place to stop that?

  3. When I was a School Governor, I came across similar events and attitudes several times, and that was an ordinary secondary school. Generally, I favour the idea of kids with Special Needs being able to go to normal schools, but its not straightforward. I know a number of people who had campaigned in the past vigorously for the right of Special Needs Schools to be set up, precisely because SEN kids were NOT getting the education and attention they needed.

    When I was a County Councillor I voted in favour of bringing Special Needs into mainstream schools, but I did express my concern that in practice their was a danger of the funding that went with it, being used for general education, especially in a time of Cuts.

    On the general principle, if a workers co-operative school was set up I would be in favour of it having control over everything within the confines of the limits that Marx talked about i.e. there should be Nationally agreed policies on admission, standards and minimum funding, and Independent Inspection.

  4. Boffy,
    I agree about the absolute need for admissions policies that are wider than the particular school operating them, though I've a hunch that this is best done locally (or at least at a Country/multi-Borough level)rather than nationally. There are just so many ways local geography and sociology make this or that apparently 'fair' admissions policy discriminatory. I went to a Secondary School plum in the middle of a Council Estate with a 'distance from school gates' admissions policy for instance. Unsurprisingly, it rarely attracted any middle class kids....

    P.S. I thought your recent series of posts on A Momentous Change was absolutely top notch blogging.

  5. Charlie,

    Cheers. I think I agree about the more local aspect, but I was thinking about things like Minimum Standards, Minimum Funding, and overall parameters such as you can't exclud people because they have this or that religion/non religion, ethnicity, and so on.

  6. Boffy
    Yes, I don't think there's very much difference between your views and mine on this subject.

    Unfortunately, all those terribly reasonable - even dull- minimum expectations you refer to are not particularly representative of how the system currently works.