School watchdog attacks 'complicated' admission systems
Some secondary schools' arrangements for allocating places are too complicated, a schools watchdog says.
The annual report from England's schools adjudicator says some systems are so complex that parents may need to study them "several years" before applying for a place.
For the second consecutive year, the watchdog said too many schools were not following the admissions code.
And it reports problems with sixth-form places.
The chief schools adjudicator, Elizabeth Passmore, called for all schools to comply fully with the admissions code, which sets out rules governing the allocation of places with the aim of ensuring they are allocated fairly.
Some schools were falling foul of the code because of the rules they set, by not consulting parents properly about their plans or by failing to publish their admission rules on their websites in good time.
Too many admission arrangements for sixth forms failed to comply with the code, Ms Passmore said, suggesting that in some state schools that select by ability for this age group, pupils joining from outside had to meet tougher standards than those already there.
Only state-funded schools that are grammar schools can select by ability at age 11, but this rule does not apply at 16.
The watchdog said it was concerned about the complexity of some schools' admissions arrangements.
The annual report says: "Some secondary schools have... arrangements that are complicated and require a parent to be well organised and study the arrangements carefully, sometimes several years before applying for a place, to ensure that their child will have a realistic chance of gaining a place at the school."
It said children might need to take tests for several schools on different days and that further complications came from the use of banding (where schools take a proportion of children from different ability bands) alongside other criteria such as catchment area, feeder schools or a pupil's faith.
The report continues: "The complex arrangements, especially some with points systems, risk falling far short of... the code which says, 'Parents should be able to look at a set of arrangements and understand easily how places for that school will be allocated'."
The watchdog said there was also an issue with some new schools or academies taking over responsibility for admissions from local authorities.
Ms Passmore called on the Department for Education to "ensure that there is clear guidance, for new schools and those that change their status to become their own admission authority, about the requirements and timetable to be followed concerning admission matters".
Under the government's academy and free school programme, more schools are taking control of their admissions process. They can set their own rules, but these have to be in line with the admissions code.
Overall, the watchdog says it dealt with 212 new cases this year, compared with 265 last year, with the majority of complaints being about admissions.
It also deals with disputes about changes to the use of school land, including playing fields. It had looked at 10 cases this year, it said - the same number as last year.