GRAMMAR SCHOOL PLACES AND APPEALS – MARCH 2017
Many parents will today receive details of whether their child has been allocated at place at the grammar schools where they sat the entrance examination. Many pupils and parents who will be delighted and even more disappointed with the outcome. Phil Storey, Education Law solicitor at Bailey Wright & Co, looks at the law in relation to Grammar School allocation and appeals.
Admission to a grammar school is by selection based wholly on academic ability, measured by a test. Some grammar schools offer places to those who score highest. Others set a pass mark, leaving places unfilled if sufficient numbers do not attain it and additional criteria for cases when more pupils pass than there are places available.
As places are allocated in accordance with the results of the tests, the scope for successfully appealing against the decision to refuse to admit a pupil is very narrow. Where places are allocated by reference to a standardised test, elements of discretion to admit pupils are, quite reasonably, limited to exceptional cases. Some admission authorities for grammar schools operate a ‘local review’ process to decide whether children who have, for example, failed the entrance test ought still to be considered as being of grammar school standard and therefore offered a place. If that internal review is not successful, parents are left with a limited right of appeal to an Appeal Panel.
In order to succeed at an appeal hearing in relation to a grammar school, parents will need to demonstrate to the Appeal Panel that:-
- The child has the academic ability to do well at the grammar school
- The child had special extenuating or mitigating circumstances which meant that they were unable to perform to their ability on the day(s) of the exams
The panel is therefore trying to predict whether or not the child’s overall academic evidence is sufficiently compelling to indicate the child would have achieved a pass mark under normal circumstances and whether there were mitigating circumstances that explain why the pass or threshold mark was not reached. Naturally, the further away from the pass or threshold mark, the stronger this evidence needs to be. For example, if the child did not do well because s/he had the flu, a doctor’s note would be helpful as well as the evidence set out below.
An appeal panel may be asked to consider an appeal where the appellant believes that the child did not perform at their best on the day of the entrance test. In such cases and where a local review process has not been applied, the panel must only uphold the appeal if it is satisfied:
1) that there is evidence to demonstrate that the child is of the required academic standards, for example, school reports giving Year 5/Year 6 SAT results or a letter of support from their current or previous school clearly indicating why the child is considered to be of grammar school ability; and
2) where applicable, that the appellant’s arguments outweigh the admission authority’s case that admission of additional children would cause prejudice to the school.
Where a local review process has been followed, the appeal panel must only consider whether each child’s review was carried out in a fair, consistent and objective way. If there is no evidence that this has been done, the panel must then follow the process above.
In either case, the panel must not devise its own methods to assess suitability for a grammar school place, unrelated to the evidence provided for the hearing.
The scope for successfully challenging a refusal to admit a pupil to a grammar school is therefore particularly limited because it requires an assessment as to ‘what would the child have achieved if there had been no mitigating circumstances?’ This is an extremely subjective and difficult test to overcome. Having shown that a child is likely to have achieved the necessary standard, the panel could still refuse an appeal if the admission authority proves that the admission of an additional pupil, would cause prejudice to the school.
Given the risks of failure, it is certainly sensible if parents choose at least one non-grammar school where their child’s prospects of getting in are good, so at least they have a reasonable fall-back position if the child, for whatever reason, is unsuccessful in the grammar school test(s).
Bailey Wright & Co
1st March 2017