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Changes agreed for Cardiff's school admissions system

Plans to simplify the way school admissions are dealt with in the city have been agreed by Cardiff Council's Cabinet at a meeting today, Thursday March 15. 

A report to presented to Cabinet members recommended cutting the number of criteria used when allocating places at oversubscribed schools. 

Deputy Leader of Cardiff Council and Cabinet Member for Education, Employment and Skills, Cllr Sarah Merry, said: "We know how important the admissions process is to parents, as applying for a school place can cause a lot anxiety. 

"The council has to review its school admission arrangements each year. As these have remained broadly the same in Cardiff since 2001, and with a growth in the number of pupils moving from primary school to secondary school in the coming years, it was time to explore the merits of new options, ensuring that we maintain a fair, transparent and clear application system." 

The ideas were put forward for consultation which closed earlier this year - covering applications for nursery, primary and secondary schools - and  the Cabinet report provided detailed evaluation of the views expressed. 

The consultation followed an independent review of Cardiff's current system, which was commissioned by Cardiff Council and carried out by Cardiff University. The review looked at the way school applications are handled in other parts of the UK, to see if there were lessons to be learned. It concluded that there were a lot of strengths in the system in Cardiff, although it could benefit from being simplified. 

Comments received through the consultation suggested broad agreement that the allocation of nursery and primary school places should be changed in line with the options consulted on. 

Concerns over option of introducing feeder schools 

Concerns were raised regarding an option to introduce feeder schools, in other words, primary schools which feed into a specific community secondary school. Respondents felt that it would discriminate against a significant number of pupils across the city. 

Introducing feeder schools would potentially disadvantage families moving into the area because of a change in jobs; vulnerable families having to relocate to an area due to personal circumstances; or asylum seeking families being placed in an area. 

Feeder schools would also have a negative impact on pupils in Welsh-medium schools and faith schools. Children having to switch from faith or Welsh-medium education on entering secondary school would be put at a disadvantage, as they would not have gone to a feeder primary. 

In light of the consultation findings, the report approved by Cabinet did not recommend the introduction of feeder schools in Cardiff. 

‘Insufficient evidence that introducing feeder primary schools would be beneficial city-wide' 

Cllr Sarah Merry commented: "We need to ensure that any new system introduced to allocate places at oversubscribed schools is appropriate for the whole of Cardiff, not just a few areas. 

"After evaluating the responses to the consultation, it is clear that introducing feeder schools would have a negative impact on pupils in a number of areas of the city. There is insufficient evidence that introducing feeder primary schools would be beneficial city-wide. 

"We have thought long and hard about whether or not to introduce feeder schools. While there are merits to the system for some areas, we cannot introduce something that would be detrimental to the children living across the city." 

The changes will be introduced at the end of this year, when school applications open for September 2019 places.

The changes approved by Cabinet

(Refer to ‘How the system currently works in Cardiff' below for a full description of the rules recommended to be removed)

  • Remove the ‘furthest from alternative school rule'
  • Remove the ‘pupils starting school early rule'
  • Remove reference to ‘Early Years Assessment Panel' and ‘Case Advisory Panel' and change it to ‘Funded Individual Healthcare Plan' (and add this to the criteria for secondary school applications)
  • Start using the distance from home to school as a ‘tie breaker'

The Council also consulted on a proposal to remove the ‘directed sibling rule' (defined below), but that was not put forward for primary school admissions after concerns were raised. 

How the system currently works in Cardiff

When allocating places at an oversubscribed school, the following criteria are used to offer a child a place. 

It's in descending order of priority, so the first on the list carries more weight than the second, and so on. 

But it's worth remembering that the council has a duty to admit pupils with a statement of Special Education Needs before considering any of the following. 

Secondary School Criteria 

  1. The pupil is looked after by the council
     
  2. Sometimes known as the directed sibling rule, and there are two parts to this. They both apply to allocating a place at an oversubscribed school that an older brother or sister goes to, but it isn't the catchment school for the family because, either:
     
    1. The family no longer lives in the catchment as the catchment area has been changed since the older brother or sister started going there

      or
       
    2. The council offered a place to an older brother or sister to go to a school that wasn't the family's catchment school, because their own catchment school was full
       
  3. The pupil permanently lives in the catchment for the school being applied for
     
  4. The council considers the pupil to have compelling medical grounds to go to the school
     
  5. The pupil has an older brother or sister at the school (they have to be in Year 11 or below though, it doesn't count if they're in the school's sixth form)
     
  6. The pupil lives nearer to the school than other children that have applied to go there (this is measured using the shortest possible walking route, not as the crow flies)
     
  7. The pupil lives furthest away from the alternative school they would go to if they don't get in to the one they're applying for (again using walking distances, not as the crow flies). So the pupil living furthest away from the alternative school would be in a stronger position to be offered a place in the their preferred school, should one arise at a later date
     
  8. The pupil has permission from the council to start going to school at a younger age than the law requires 

Primary School Criteria 

  1. The pupil is looked after by the council
     
  2. The pupils has been given funding by the Early Years Assessment Panel or the Case Advisory Panel
     
  3. The directed sibling rule again (the child's older brother or sister goes to a school that isn't their catchment school either because the catchment area has changed since, or the council directed them to go there because their catchment school was full)
     
  4. The pupil permanently lives in the catchment for the school being applied for
     
  5. The council considers the pupil to have compelling medical grounds to go to the school
     
  6. The pupil has an older brother or sister at the school
     
  7. The pupil lives nearer to the school than other children that have applied to go there
     
  8. The pupil lives furthest away from the alternative school they would go to if they don't get in to the one they're applying for
     
  9. The pupil has permission from the council to start going to school at a younger age than the law requires