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Key changes in the School Admissions Code 2021

James Dix considers changes in the School Admissions Code 2021 in relation to in-year admissions, looked after children and Fair Access Protocols.

This academic school year saw the introduction of the updated 2021 Admissions Code, the first major revision since 2014. This article looks at the main changes.

There were three main changes to the Code, relating to in-year admissions, looked after and previously looked after children, and Fair Access Protocols. Children in these categories can often have special educational needs, sometimes unidentified. Those with existing Plans will have school admissions determined directly by LA SEN teams, and so the Admissions Code will be of very limited relevance.

The Code was effective from September 2021 but requires various steps to be completed by August 2022 so should be considered urgently.

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In-year admissions

The School Admissions Code 2014 had been criticised for its handling of in-year admissions, particularly with regards to SEN pupils. Many councils told the OSA that in-year admissions do not function well for pupils in need of SEN support, but who do not have an education health and care plan, according to Schools Week. Therefore, one of the overarching aims of the new Code was to improve the clarity of this aspect of the process and make it “easier for parents to navigate”, according to the government’s consultation report. For example, there was overwhelming support for the online publication of information on in-year admissions by a certain date, with 87% of respondents saying this would be helpful for parents.

The new duties can be split into four categories; the first is those imposed on all admissions authorities. The second is those imposed on the local authority. The third is those imposed on admissions authorities managing their own in-year processes. The fourth category is those imposed on admissions authorities who join the local authority-coordinated system.

Duties imposed on all admissions authorities

There is now an obligation on admissions authorities to decide whether to operate their own in-year processes or use the local authority-coordinated processes. A decision on this issue must be communicated to the local authority on an annual basis by 1st August.

Admissions authorities should aim for an outcome decision on applications within 10 school days, but they must issue the decision notification within 15 school days.

Duties imposed on local authorities

There is a duty on the local authority to publish information online about in-year coordinated admissions by 31st August each year, including:

  • The relevant application form;
  • Which schools are participating in coordinated arrangements?
  • Which schools are dealing with admissions on their own.

Duties imposed on admissions authorities joining the local authority system

Admissions authorities which are joining local authority arrangements must publish the information concerning this fact and provide relevant contact information to assist parents.

Duties imposed on admissions authorities operating their own systems

Admissions authorities not joining the local authority’s coordinated arrangements must also publish information relating to how their admission processes will operate, including timescales for decision-making. They must share information with the local authority about the availability of places in their schools within two days of the request. Request for outcomes of any school applications made should be given as soon as reasonably practicable, but the aim is within just two school days.

Looked after children

The 2021 Code contains an expanded definition of previously looked after children to include children who were in state care outside of the UK but were subsequently adopted. Furthermore, the definition of “state care” has been expanded, to include being in the care of public authorities, religious authorities or other organisations that act in the public benefit.

The importance of this provision lies in the fact that the Code requires admission authorities to give priority in their oversubscription criteria to this category. Admissions authorities and local authorities will have to be very clear about the type of evidence that can be submitted, and they may need to change their arrangements to ensure compliance. This should be updated as soon as possible to avoid being in breach of the Code.

Fair Access Protocols

Finally, there have been updates to the system of Fair Access Protocols. Greater clarity was required in this area, as the government’s consultation report showed. Fair Access Protocols may be relevant where in-year admissions are refused because the child has challenging behaviour. The Code now contains a definition of challenging behaviour. For the purposes of the Code, behaviour can be described as challenging where it would be

unlikely to be responsive to the usual range of interventions to help prevent and address pupil misbehaviour; or

it is of such severity, frequency, or duration that it is beyond the normal range that schools can tolerate.

The Code also sets out that the expectation is that this behaviour will significantly interfere with the pupil’s or other pupils’ education or jeopardise the right of staff and pupils to a safe and orderly environment.

The local authority has the responsibility of drawing up the Protocol, but it must be in consultation with the schools in their area and agreed upon by the majority. Where the arrangements are no longer supported by the majority, a review must be initiated. Admissions authorities have a duty to participate in such arrangements.

Fair Access Protocols now encompass more children, including the unplaced, the vulnerable and those who are unable to secure a school place in-year. Allocation decisions must be made within 20 school days from the date on which the child was deemed to be eligible for support under the Protocol.

Conclusion

The new School Admissions Code seeks to provide further clarity in the important areas of in-year admissions, looked after and previously looked after children, and Fair Access Protocols. Admissions authorities will have to update their processes and publish the relevant information and should review progress on light of the imminent summer deadlines.

James Dix is a Paralegal at LASEN Ltd. LASEN host regular online training for local authority SEND and EHCP officers. For more information, local authority employees will need to become members of LASEN at https://www.lasen.co.uk .  LASEN membership is free of charge but only open to local authority employees. LASEN will be giving an EHC Plan caselaw and policy update at 3pm on Thursday 10 February by barrister Paul Greatorex and solicitor Satnam Virdi.

This article is written for general information purposes. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied on as such.

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