On 9 November 2021, the House of Lords is due to consider the following motion:
Lord Lucas (Conservative) to move that the grand committee takes note of the draft school admissions code 2021 and the School Information (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2021 (SI 2021/570).
What is the school admissions code?
When carrying out duties relating to admissions, schools and local authorities in England must adhere to statutory guidance known as the school admissions code. The purpose of the code is to ensure that all school places for maintained schools (which are funded and controlled by a local authority) and academies (excluding maintained special schools and special academies) are allocated and offered in an “open and fair way”. As part of this, each local authority must have a fair access protocol to ensure that unplaced and vulnerable children, in addition to those having difficulty securing a school place during the school year, are allocated a place as quickly as possible.
In recent years, the Government has held consultations that have highlighted problems with in-year admissions, which occur when a school place is taken up at some point during, rather than at the beginning of, the academic year, or at the start of a year which is not the normal point of entry to the school. In 2019, the Government ran a consultation reviewing its support for children in need of help and protection (those who need the support of a social worker) to help it understand why children’s educational outcomes were “so poor” and “what further support they might require”. The consultation found that children in need were more likely to seek a school place outside the normal admissions round and that delays in securing a school place in-year could lead to children missing education.
In response to the consultation’s findings, the Department for Education committed to taking forward changes to the school admissions code to “improve the clarity, timeliness and transparency of the in-year admissions process to ensure all vulnerable children can access a school place as quickly as possible”.
In June 2020, the Government ran another consultation that focused on changes to the school admissions code 2014. The changes sought to “clarify and improve” the school admissions process where children are admitted to school in-year. The consultation ran until October 2020.
Responding, the Government found that there was “broad support” for most of the proposals. In particular, the proposal to introduce mandatory deadlines for both in-year applications and fair access protocols that “improve the process for all children who need a school place in-year”. The Government also stated that there was a “statutory process” when making any changes to the code and that it would lay a revised code before Parliament: the ‘School Admissions Code 2021’ came into force on 1 September 2021. The revised code includes a dedicated section on in-year admissions and a definition of challenging behaviour in relation to school admissions policy.
Year 7 catch-up premium grant
The year 7 catch-up premium grant was introduced in 2012. It provides state-funded schools, including special schools and alternative provision settings, with additional funding to support year 7 pupils who did not achieve a level 4 grade (which later became the “expected standard”) in mathematics or reading at the end of key stage 2.
In 2020, the Government announced that the premium grant would be discontinued, with last payments made during the 2019–20 academic year. Instead, funding would be allocated “on a similar basis” to the premium by the national funding formula (NFF), which contained a low prior attainment factor, “but provides funding for all five years that a pupil is in school”. In July 2021, the Government reported that the amount allocated through the secondary low prior attainment factor for the 2020–21 academic year was increasing from £924 million to £973 million.
What do the regulations do?
On 11 May 2021, the Government laid the School Information (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2021 (the 2021 regulations) before Parliament under the made negative procedure. This meant that the regulations became law automatically but could have been revoked if a motion to reject it was agreed to by either House within 40 sitting days. On 1 July 2021, the objection period ended, with the regulations coming into force on 1 September 2021.
The 2021 regulations make consequential amendments to the School Information (England) Regulations 2008 (the 2008 regulations), which sets out the information that local authorities and governing bodies are required to publish about school admissions. The 2021 regulations’ explanatory memorandum notes that amendments were “necessary” to the 2008 regulations, due to there being an “overlap” between a number of the obligations set out in the 2021 code and the regulations. The explanatory memorandum states that such changes would ensure that the provisions in the 2008 regulations were “consistent” with the 2021 code. These changes were as follows:
- The regulations removed the obligation on local authorities to provide information about in-year applications relevant to years beginning on or after 1 August 2022 in their annual prospectus, as the 2021 code introduced a new requirement on local authorities to publish such information on their websites (or in hard copy, which was to be made available to parents on request).
- The 2021 code also introduced a new requirement for admission authorities to update their own or the school’s website with a copy of relevant admission arrangements by 15 March annually. This was to allow parents and others sufficient time to place an objection with the Schools Adjudicator by the deadline of 15 May should they think an admissions arrangement does not comply with either the code or associated legislation.
- The 2008 regulations required governing bodies of community and voluntary schools to update their websites with similar information at least six weeks prior to the admissions deadline. Therefore, the 2021 regulations amended this requirement to ensure that governing bodies publish a copy of its admission arrangements by 15 March annually, so that websites relevant to all schools will display the same information by the same point in the year.
The regulations also make a consequential change to reflect the discontinuation of the year 7 catch-up premium grant, which had been replaced with the low prior attainment factor within the NFF. Previously, schedule 4 of the 2008 regulations (as amended by the School Information (England) (Amendment) Regulation 2013) set out the information required to be published on a website by governing bodies of maintained schools that were in receipt of any allocations of the year 7 literacy and numeracy catch-up premium grant. However, as the grant has been discontinued, the 2021 regulations withdrew that requirement.
What parliamentary scrutiny has there been?
On 25 May 2021, the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee considered the regulations. The committee noted that the regulations were an instrument of interest and that it had published a summary of changes made by the 2021 code, in comparison to the previous version (published in 2014). On 16 June 2021, the regulations were considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, who did not raise any concerns.
On 9 November 2021, the House of Lords is due to debate a motion in grand committee on the school admissions code 2021 and the School Information (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2021.
- UK Parliament, ‘School Information (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2021’, accessed 4 November 2021
- House of Commons, ‘Written Question: Education—Equality’, 21 October 2021, 53873
- House of Lords, ‘Written Question: Schools—Domestic Violence’, 7 June 2021, HL469
- Department for Education, ‘What maintained schools must publish online’, updated 12 February 2021
Cover image by freepik.