Admissions lotteries and banding on the rise in schools

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The number of secondary schools using 'lotteries' and banding to decide which students to admit is on the rise, according to a new report published by the Sutton Trust.

The research, reported in the TES, shows that a small but growing number of schools – predominantly sponsored academies – are using the practices of ability banding and random allocation in their admissions criteria.

The report by London School of Economics (LSE) academics shows that the majority of schools still rely on the distance between a student’s home and the school, as well as whether they have already admitted any siblings, to decide who to offer places to.

However, the number of schools using banding – an approach in which pupils are tested and placed in different ability bands in a bid to provide a comprehensive intake – increased to 121 in 2012/13, up from 95 four years earlier, with 42 schools relying on random allocation.

The practices are most popular among sponsored academies: 17 per cent used one or both criteria, compared to just 5 per cent of all comprehensive schools.

The report also demonstrated a slight increase in the number of schools allocating places according to aptitude or ability in music, sports or other specialist subjects; this went up from 133 secondaries in 2008 to 155 in the most recent statistics. One in 10 academies used this practice.

Conor Ryan, the Sutton Trust’s director of research and communications, said it was “encouraging that more schools and academies are using banding and ballots as a way to get a more balanced intake”.

However he added that it was important that they were “sensitive to local circumstances” to ensure that places “should not be limited to those who can afford to pay a premium on their mortgages or rents”.

The report called on more schools to use ballots and banding to “ensure wider access to the most academically successful comprehensives”.

Professor West, director of the LSE’s education research group, said: “Banding could have the greatest effect on creating balanced intakes in areas where schools are popular and school rolls are rising.

“While banding is not a panacea, it can contribute to creating more balanced intakes than would otherwise be the case.”

Banding is currently used to decide on the allocation of places across 10 schools in the London borough of Hackney, including six academies and a free school.

Rita Krishna, Hackney Council’s cabinet member for education and children’s services, said: “We find it’s an effective method of ensuring that schools take children across the ability spectrum and in Hackney we’ve found that contributes to better results for all.”

School Leadership Today
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