School Preferences Aid
Created by Ralph Lucas.
I'm a Scientist in London, United Kingdom. I work at Good Schools Guide. I earned a M.A. from University of Oxford.
English local authorities use a Common Application System (“CAS”) for state school entry in the principal years of admission (e.g. into year 7 for most secondary schools) for the schools in their areas.
Our system will help parents make optimum decisions on choice of schools and the order in which they place those choices, so that their child is most likely to be offered a place in a school that suits them.
Our system will:
- Introduce itself – this system will prompt you with suggestions and information, so that your choices, and the order of your choices, give you the best possible chance of getting a school place that you want.
- Ask gatekeeping questions about admissions: children in care, social/medical, gender, religion, brother or sister (each with helpful explanations), postcode
- Compute which schools are possibilities, and how strong that possibility is, based on the answers given above
- Show a map, with the location of parent and schools. School show a summary chance of admission (good, medium, poor, worth a shot). Hover over school to show data about the school, and circles for last year's cutoff and what the cutoff would have been if siblings had been +_ 20%
- Show a list of the schools, with links to school websites, various data, and a box to enter preference number.
- Talk parents through the options and consequences as they make their choices
In its later iterations the system will provide an environment for parents to discuss school choices, particularly with other parents who used the system in previous years and have no children competing for places in the current year.
Admissions rules have become very complicated. Haringey - http://www.haringey.gov.uk/secondary_admissions_booklet_2014.pdf - is at the simple end: most schools operating a ‘conventional’ system of precedence: particular needs, then siblings, then distance, but some with more complex structures based on religion, distance from multiple places and banding. Other local authorities have more arcane complexities, and with the growth in numbers of academies (who can propose their own admissions rules) and the movement to use ballots (to avoid well-off parents gaming the system through house renting or purchase) the system is becoming ever more complex.
Even with current levels of complexity, and even in less complex local authorities such as Haringey, this is generating problems. Page 13 of the current Haringey secondary schools admissions booklet, http://www.haringey.gov.uk/secondary_admissions_booklet_2014.pdf , lists half a dozen ways in which parents are disadvantaging their children as a result of imperfectly compiled lists of school choices.
Complexity disadvantages the disadvantaged. The sharp-elbowed can work out how to take advantage of it. We want to make sure that social disadvantage does not lead to educational disadvantage as a result of poor school choice.
This desire is shared by local authorities, who will we believe (under the right conditions) agree to our system sitting alongside, or even replacing, the facility that a local authority uses to allow parents to enter their school choices. This will allow sufficient traffic flow to make the system commercially viable, either as a fulfilment of government's ambitions or as a commercial or social enterprise.
As a by-product, but a most desirable one, the system will accumulate a comprehensive data set on admissions to English schools, which will be made available as open data and an API.
We need to use extensive open data, notably locations of postcodes, from the Ordnance Survey, boundaries of wards ditto, basic data on schools (Edubase), full admissions criteria for all Haringey schools and the number admitted under each criterion (we hope that this is available from the Haringey data but if not it can be transcribed from data on the web, cut-off criteria and the distance (the only one needed for Haringey) applied in the case of the above criteria, data on Haringey schools from other sources: performance table data from the DfE Ofsted ratings from the Ofsted site, A level subject performance from the NPD (for secondary schools), performance for different types of child, ditto
Collaborators with strong local authority experience, to ensure that our system and the data in it meet local authority standards.
Goodwill and determination from the DfE - they seem to be about half way there at the moment
Collaboration from local authorities
Help and inspiration from anyone else moved to offer it
As a result of the weekend, release initial iteration for testing with Haringey parents and with the local authority.
Release second iteration and draft business plan for wider exploration with the DfE and with more local authorities
Pilot a working version in a limited set of local authorities