Recent changes to the school admissions code

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An updated version of the School Admissions Code came into force in England on 19 December 2014, under the School Admissions Code (Appointed Day) Order 2014 (SI/2014/3321).

The School Admissions Code

The overarching aim of the recent changes to the School Admissions Code (the Code) is to improve the fair and open allocation of places in maintained schools and academies and to support social mobility by allowing admission authorities to give priority for school places to disadvantaged children.

School admission authorities for both maintained and academies have a responsibility to ensure their admission arrangements are compliant with the Code. A recent consultation over the summer sought views on aspects of the Code relating to whether admission authorities should have the option to prioritise disadvantaged children in their admission arrangements, along with minor proposed changes to improve clarity. The Department for Education’s (DfE’s) consultation closed on 29 September 2014.


Many respondents welcomed the principle of supporting the most disadvantaged children, whilst emphasising that other local children should not be disproportionately affected. Some respondents also raised various administrative queries about how these proposals might operate in practice.

There was strong support for changes to be made in connection with the admissions timetable, including the deadline for compliance with the adjudicator; this was viewed as bringing clarity to the process and ensuring reduced delays.

Respondents gave a range of views on the changes around the admission of summer born children, with some urging caution that we should not go further than the changes proposed in the consultation, whilst others supported more substantive changes.

There was strong support for the minor technical drafting changes, which were seen as bringing helpful clarity to existing provisions.

The Changes

Priority for children eligible for the pupil or service premium:
  • This change will allow all schools to have the freedom to give admission priority for all children attracting the pupil premium, the early years pupil premium and the service premium. Academies and free schools already had the option to adopt such a priority, through the terms of their funding agreement.
  • This change is part of the government’s policy to support fair access.
  • There will be no requirement for admission authorities to include such a priority in their admission arrangements. This will be an option open to schools, who may adopt it if they wish.
  • Any admission authority intending to adopt such a priority would have to ensure it was drawn up appropriately and it would be beneficial to seek appropriate advice in respect of this point.
Priority for nursery children eligible for the early years pupil premium, pupil or service premium:
  • This change will allow admission authorities of primary schools which have a nursery to give priority in their admission arrangements to disadvantaged children who attend the nursery.
  • As with the pupil premium proposal (above at paragraph 3.1), there will be no requirement for an admission authority to adopt this priority and any that choose to may do so flexibly and in a manner which is appropriate to their local circumstances.
Changes to the admissions timetable:
  • These changes will benefit parents by ensuring that a greater proportion are able to apply for school places on the basis of lawful admission arrangements by:
    • (a) ensuring unlawful admission arrangements are changed more quickly, by introducing a two-month rolling deadline for compliance with a determination of the Schools Adjudicator; and
    • (b) ensuring the Schools Adjudicator can begin to consider objections earlier, by bringing forward the deadline for objections to the Adjudicator.
  • The DfE have altered the prescribed period within which admission authorities may consult on their admission arrangements and the minimum length of consultation and have also brought forward a number of deadlines relating to the determination and publication of admission arrangements.
  • The DfE has amended the drafting regarding the rolling deadline to make clear that there can be some flexibility at the Adjudicator’s discretion, in cases where they feel it would be appropriate for an admission authority to take longer than two months to comply. For example, where it would be appropriate for the admission authority to consult locally before introducing the necessary change (for instance where compliance would require a new catchment area to be drawn up); it may be felt in certain cases that this could not be done within the deadline.
  • The timetable changes will not come into effect until the 2015-16 school year, which the DfE believes will allow sufficient time for admission authorities to prepare in advance of the changes.
Admission of summer born children:
  • This is intended to clarify the provisions around the admission of summer born children outside of their normal age group, in order to aid decision-making for admission authorities and provide greater transparency for parents.
  • Some parents commented responded during the consultation asking the DfE to go further. For example, some felt that all summer born children should have an automatic right to a place in the lower year group so that they start in reception when they reach compulsory school age.
  • On the contrary, many admission authorities responded by favouring retention of the status quo and cautioned against making further changes. They emphasised the importance of decisions being made on a case-by-case basis in recognition of the individual circumstances of the child and of professional evidence being provided to support decision-making. Some also expressed wider concerns that a large number of children being admitted outside of their normal age group would make ensuring there are sufficient reception places for all children more difficult.
  • The DfE has commented that the changes that have been made should balance the above differing viewpoints.
Other technical drafting changes:
  • A number of other technical drafting changes have been made to provide additional clarity to existing provisions of the Code and again it may be useful to obtain further advice in respect of these more subtle changes.
  • More specifically, the drafting of the provision around in-year admissions, (which some respondents noted may be left open to misinterpretation and could potentially undermine many existing arrangements which are in place locally) has been revised to make it clear that the provision applies except where other agreed arrangements are in place locally.

Free Schools

On 19 December 2014, the DfE also updated its guidance documents on free schools admissions, to reflect the new admissions code and to clarify the guidance for free schools.

Next Steps

The DfE intends to:

  • provide additional advice to admission authorities regarding the changes, where necessary and to support them as the Code comes into force; and
  • review existing guidance to ensure it is fit-for-purpose in respect of the revised Code.

Should you require any more detailed advice in respect of the above, the Walker Morris Education Group will be happy to assist.