Infant classes and the limited right of appeal
With infant class places being allocated across the country today, many parents will be consoling themselves in the knowledge that they have a right of appeal. However, the limited scope for appeals to be allowed means that most appeals will be unsuccessful, and most parents stand little, if any, prospect of success.
The law limits the size of an infant class to 30 pupils per school teacher. When a parent is appealing for a place, the panel’s task is to review the decision already made; it cannot say that personal circumstances mean that the child should have a place at the school, if this would take the number of children in the class over 30. Parents can appeal but the prospect of success is low in all but exceptional cases.
When an appeal is lodged, an Appeal Panel must consider the following matters:
- a) Whether the admission of the additional child/ren would breach the infant class size limit;
- b) Whether the admission arrangements complied with the School Admissions Code and the School Standards and Framework Act 1998;
- c) Whether the admission arrangements were correctly and impartially applied in the case(s) in question; and
- d) Whether the decision to refuse admission was one which a reasonable admission authority would have made in the circumstances of the case.
The panel may only uphold the appeal where it decides:
- a) that the admission of additional children would not breach the infant class size limit; or
- b) that the admission arrangements did not comply with admissions law or were not correctly and impartially applied, and the child would have been offered a place if the arrangements had complied or had been correctly and impartially applied; or
- c) that the decision to refuse admission was not one which a reasonable admission authority would have made in the circumstances of the case.
The threshold for finding that an admission authority’s decision to refuse admission was not one that a reasonable authority would have made is high. The panel must be satisfied that the decision to refuse to admit the child was ‘beyond the range of responses open to a reasonable decision maker’ or ‘a decision which is so outrageous that no sensible person who had applied his mind to the question could have arrived at it.’ When schools have applied their admission criteria correctly and the criteria is lawful, appeals rarely succeed. It is likely to be only on the basis of a clear error in the allocation of places, which is difficult to prove, because generally only the Admission Authority will know if the policy was correctly applied.