Wokingham Borough Council confirmed today (August 31) that it was disappointed with the outcome of the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA)’s review of admissions arrangements at Maiden Erlegh School, in particular that proposed tie-breaker arrangements had been rejected.
The OSA report was produced following objections from a number of parents and from Reading Borough Council to the new admission arrangements for Maiden Erlegh School which were consulted on as part of the Wokingham Borough Secondary Admissions Review during late 2010 and early 2011. As a result of the OSA report, the Secretary of State for Education has directed Maiden Erlegh School, which is now an academy, to amend the ‘tie-breaker’ arrangement to one of simple radial distance. The school has indicated its intention to accept the direction.
However, the same report vindicated all other aspects of the council’s admissions review and consultation.
The OSA report found that it was ‘reasonable for the council to increase the size of [the school’s] designated area in the way it did’; that the new designated area was ‘constructed objectively’ and formed a ‘coherent geographical area’; and that journey to school times and safe walking routes were properly considered.
In relation to the tie-breaker, the OSA report rejected the complaint that the tie-breaker was not easy to understand, saying:
'It is clear to me, not least from the number and nature of the objections, that the way of calculating [the tie-breaker] is clear and simple and that its general implications for particular communities are widely understood. In this sense, I do not believe that [tie-breaker] is complex.'
However, the adjudicator did consider that such a tie-breaker was not needed in a shared designated area in which the majority of the families lived within the statutory walking distance of one of the schools. The adjudicator also took the view that the tie-breaker was 'unfair to families who live relatively close to the school and has created uncertainty for many more'.
'The tie-breaker which Maiden Erlegh School has been directed to adopt instead is the same as for all other co-educational secondary schools in the Wokingham Borough and is as follows: 'Within criteria C and D priority will be given to the applicants whose permanent home address is nearest to the school in terms of radial distance'
In the report the adjudicator strongly rejected many of the other allegations of unfairness made by objectors, saying:
'I have concluded that the determined admission arrangements are fair in several respects. I do not accept the objections relating to discrimination by social group, ethnic group or by local authority of residence. Neither do I accept the objections relating to the use of straight line radial distance rather than walking distance. I have also concluded that the newly defined designated area, which has been enlarged with the aim of providing a place in a suitable designated secondary school for all designated area residents, meets the requirements of the code.'
The OSA report also makes it clear those objections to the consultation on the new admissions arrangements are unfounded, pointing out:
'… the council acted reasonably in undertaking a comprehensive review of admission arrangements for its community secondary schools, and that the School acted reasonably in adopting the council’s determined arrangements when in was re-designated as an academy on 1st April 2011. I believe that the consultation and decision making process was rigorous, comprehensive and met all statutory requirements.'
Wokingham Borough Council’s strategic director for people services Andy Couldrick responded to the report saying: "Naturally, we are disappointed with the conclusion reached by the adjudicator concerning the tie-breaker. We conducted the review of admissions arrangements because it was long overdue. The adjudicator is clear that it was the right thing to do and that the review was conducted properly and fairly."
Cllr Rob Stanton, executive member for education services at Wokingham Borough Council, said: "We sought to correct what we believed, and still believe, was a significant historic unfairness in how the old admissions arrangements operated. It is, we feel, unfortunate that the effect of the adjudicator’s decision is that some of the historic problem could persist.
"We have always said there was no solution that removed the perception of unfairness in some places. We sought to create greater overall fairness, and we feel that the adjudicator’s decision, in accepting some of the objections, undermines some efforts to achieve this.
"However, we are pleased to note that most of the objections received, including from Reading Borough Council, have been entirely rejected by the adjudicator.
"As Maiden Erlegh is an academy, it is responsible for setting and publishing its admissions arrangements, and the school will, I am sure, wish to reflect the Secretary of State’s direction in so doing.
"Wokingham Borough Council will continue to support and challenge all of the borough’s schools to sustain the kind of improvements we have seen in this year’s GCSE results, so that all of our schools continue to prove both successful and popular, not only to our residents but to those of our neighbours."
Maiden Erlegh School's chairman of governors Huw Jones said: "Maiden Erlegh School adopted Wokingham Borough Council's admission arrangements which were determined by the council on March 31, 2011 when the school became an academy on April 1, 2011. The schools' adjudicator acknowledges that the school acted reasonably in doing this.
"Now that Maiden Erlegh is responsible for setting its own admission arrangements it will, of course, accept the Secretary of State's direction to amend the ‘tie-breaker’ arrangement to one of simple radial distance and will include this in the school's published admission arrangements.
"The governing body is currently looking at future admission arrangements."
For more information
Please see the Office of the Schools Adjudicator review of admissions arrangements at Maiden Erlegh School.