AN EDUCATION expert has warned of spiralling costs to taxpayers if academies make wholesale changes to their admissions systems.

Professor John Howson, of Oxford Brookes University, was speaking after two academies changed their admissions system to give preference to certain types of students last month.

Banbury Academy is to make prospective pupils sit a literacy test, to try to ensure it takes a fair proportion of children of lesser ability, and prioritise two primaries from the same sponsor trust, while Wallingford School plans to give more priority to children of staff members.

The key difference between academies, free schools and other education establishments is that they are their own admissions authorities.

While those hoping to go to academies or free schools still apply via the county council as normal, the school then makes the decision on which children to take if it is oversubscribed.

But Prof Howson, below left, feared this may end up with the county council incurring extra costs, such as transport, when as a local education authority it has no say in which children are selected by academies.

He said: “Any changes to admissions criteria where there is only one school in the town and forces children to go somewhere else will increase the costs to the local authority.

“We will get chaos if we don’t have some planning on this.”

County councillor Melinda Tilley, below right, cabinet member for education, said she was aware of the issues surrounding academy selection and said the county council was keeping a close eye of the issue to make sure it could “pick up the pieces” if it came to it.

County council spokesman Marcus Mabberley said: “The council still has a range of duties when it comes to admissions and academies.

“These include the policy, provision and administration of home to school transport; school place planning, and ensuring there is a Fair Access Protocol in place for those children who may be difficult to place in school.”