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COVENANT


Yes, No and


“It helps you get aschool place” is the often first answer many Service families give when they are asked what they know about the Armed Forces Covenant. For any parent securing the ‘right’ school place for your child is an anxiety-provoking, emotional time. As we approach the summer holidays many parents are starting to investigate new school places as they prepare to move to new postings. Set against the background of the ever-changing landscape of education in the UK, the complexities of differing admission processes dependent upon country, local authority and type of school and awell-publicised shortage of school places in some areas, the answer to “Can the Covenant help?” is aless-than straightforward “Yes, No and Maybe”


Yes


Under section 2.18 of the Schools Admissions Code all admissions authorities in England must accept an application for children of Armed Forces personnel on proof of assignment and in advance of moving to the area. Parents do not need to have an allocated address and applications can be processed on the basis of the unit address or general quartering address. Of course, “yes” turns to “maybe” for areas where afamily could be housed in anumber of different areas, some of which may be in different local authorities. However,this provision arising from the Covenant has required admission authorities to recognise the unique nature of mobility in the Armed Forces. By comparison non-Service families cannot apply for aschool place until they have moved into the area or have proof that they will move imminently,usually within 2weeks. This applies to all types of admissions.


No One of the most common misconceptions of the Covenant is that it will automatically help parents to get the school of their choice. This is where the answer to whether the Covenant will help is “no”. Applications under the ‘normal admissions’


24 Envoy Summer 2017


Maybe…


SchoolsAdmissions:Can the Covenanthelp? By Jo Wilkinson,RAF RegionalCovenantManager


process for entry to Reception year or year 7the following September,where Service families are already in residence in the area and will remain in situ, are treated the same as any other application by any other parent. The core principles of the Covenant are that Service families should suffer no disadvantage as aresult of Service. These families have equal access to school places alongside any other family in the local area and there are no special provisions under the Covenant. Unfortunately,the statutory timetable for normal admissions often results in Service parents making ‘late applications’ as they have been posted after statutory deadlines. Admission authorities cannot refuse applications because they are late and cannot give priority based on the date upon which applications were received. However,inpractice most school places will already been allocated, offered and accepted by other families. Local authorities are not permitted to reserve blocks of school places for Service pupils even where there are likely to be significant numbers. In recognition of the Covenant, local authorities must find aschool place for Service children who move into the area as aresult of their parent’s posting but if no places are available at the parents’ preferred school, there is no duty to comply with parental preference. However,dependent upon anumber of factors the answer could become “maybe”.


Maybe The Covenant has encouraged the Schools Admission Code to create several powers which may support Armed Forces families seeking school places. However,the answer to whether the Covenant can help individual families is usually a less than satisfactory “maybe” as powers are only exercised at the discretion of the admissions authorities, hence their use in practice will vary from one area to another and usually depends upon many factors.


The most well-known power is the exception to Infant Class Size limits. By law classes for children in Keystage 1cannot exceed 30 pupils per teacher.Under the Schools Admissions


raf-ff.org.uk


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