The project findings gave an overview of stakeholders’ experiences of, and perspectives on, B&HCC’s secondary school admission procedures. Consideration was then given to stakeholders’ perspectives in relation to the following four categories:
- factors prioritised when choosing secondary schools
- measures taken to secure places in preferred secondary schools
- the reality of available school choices
- perspectives on, and experiences of, the Appeals Process
It should be noted that the findings report only the perspectives of participating students, parents and school staff, and may not be representative of the wider population of students, parents and school staff within Brighton and Hove. Nonetheless, the findings presented, most of which are based upon triangulated accounts from members of more than one participant group, suggest a number of recommendations for future policy and practice in secondary school admissions within B&H.
Key recommendations in relation to B&HCC’s review of the secondary school’s admissions procedures are for B&HCC to consider:
1. Redrawing the current geographical catchment area boundaries to try to ensure all parents/students have a genuine choice of at least two secondary schools, and to consider, within this, the potential site for a proposed ‘new’ secondary school within the city.
2. Ensuring head teachers of primary schools are aware, immediately after the secondary school application deadline, of which parents have not submitted an application. Staff in primary schools could then work with these parents to support them in submitting their application.
3. Seeking to provide all stakeholders with a greater degree of transparency about the general criteria used for allocating school places, and the specific criteria relating to the allocation of places to students living outside the catchment area.
4. Providing, and making widely available, neutral information for students and parents about schools within B&HCC to supplement the current marketing and recruitment strategies provided by schools in the form of ‘glossy brochures’.
5. Seeking to ensure that parents, students and school staff are aware that the National Offer Day, on which parents and students are informed about students’ allocated schools, is a fixed date throughout England and cannot be brought forward.
6. Implementing measures to synchronise, as far as possible, the date on which electronic and postal information about the allocation of school places is received by parents.
7. Providing all stakeholders with a simplified explanation (possibly a flow chart) of how to take forward a secondary school allocation appeal, and seeking to ensure a greater degree of transparency about the appeals process.
8. Prioritising the maintenance of the current partnership and consensus on admissions represented by the locally agreed and centrally controlled admissions criteria. According to research findings (West, 2006; Pennel et al., 2006; Coldron et al., 2008; Gorard et al., 2013), this is more likely to serve the best interests of all children in the city.
Evidence provided in the report, as well as evidence from other research (eg. Allen et al., 2010), suggests that the interaction between catchment and random allocation can lead to some unequal access to 'good' schools and to social segregation. International evidence (OECD, 2012) also suggests a strong correlation between equity and quality in terms of student outcomes and performance and, where education systems are segregated, the overall performance of students declines. However, the Sutton Trust (2007, 6) reports that ballots in school admissions can play a useful role in cases where other criteria, including catchment areas are ‘fair’, which we would define in terms of the socio-economic make-up of catchments. Given these potentially conflicting findings, a further recommendation is that B&HCC gives consideration to conducting a more substantial and in-depth analysis of whether the use of random allocation impacts positively or negatively on interaction between catchment areas and on levels of social segregation within the schooling system in Brighton and Hove.