ACADEMY schools are seizing powers to change admissions rules to include entry tests and to give more priority to children of staff.
Two county secondary schools have announced plans to change admissions criteria using powers given under academy status.
Banbury Academy will have prospective pupils sit a test and prioritise two primaries, while Wallingford School will give more priority to staff children.
Heads said the changes will give them more scope to make improvements – but a leading head and union warned of “selection”.
There are currently 26 county academies out of 275 state primary and secondary schools and a further 16 want to convert.
Pupils who want to attend Banbury Academy – formerly Banbury School – will have to take a literacy test while in Year 6 for September 2014 entry.
A set number of places will then be allocated to three ability bands – set nationally – in a bid to keep it “fully comprehensive”. This will help it keep places for the less able when more “advantaged” youngsters join a planned 1,000-home Bankside estate, said executive principal Dr Fiona Hammans.
She said: “If you look at any highly popular school, then the sharp-elbowed middle classes will find their way into the school they want.
“We want to make sure we maintain comprehensivity and the first way to do that is to have literacy testing.”
Pupils at Dashwood and Harriers academy primaries – part of the sponsor trust it belongs to – will get priority over other primaries under the plans.
The school is under-subscribed but the changes could affect pupils if demand exceeds places.
Wallingford School would prioritise children of staff of more than two years, or in certain posts, over catchment-area children and those with siblings at the school.
Headteacher Wyll Willis said he would be “very surprised” if this took 10 places a year and the move would attract and retain staff. He said: “We sometimes lose very talented teachers and I think we need to have a better chance of retaining them.”
Teachers at the school – which is over-subscribed most years – will also have a “vested interest” in its success, he said.
But Oxford Spires Academy principal Sue Croft raised concerns.
Her school still runs its admissions through Oxfordshire County Council, which manages admissions for non-academies.
She said: “Admissions is very complex and it needs to be centrally organised in order to be fair.
“Anything you do that changes the criteria is a form of selection. Our job is to be a service to the whole community.”
Ed Finch, spokesman for the Oxfordshire branch of the National Union of Teachers, said testing for selection purposes “will look like the thin end of a very dangerous wedge”.
He said: “The freedom given to schools is very worrying.”
Giving more priority to staff children “will not be good for relationships between families and schools”, he said.
County council cabinet member for education Melinda Tilley said she supported a school’s right to become an academy and set admissions. She said: “It is really up to the school, we don’t have any control over it.”
Academies must still abide by the School Admissions Code which has minimum standards such as giving priority to looked-after children.
Banbury Academy and Wallingford School are consulting on both proposals.