SECONDARY SCHOOL TRANSFERS – 6th April 2018
With many pupils and parents today receiving details of the school where they have been offered a place, Phil Storey, Education Law Solicitor sets out the law on secondary school admissions and appeals.
Parents are entitled to express a preference for schools for their child upon transfer to secondary school. The reality is that, other than undersubscribed schools, most parents only have a few schools at which they stand a realistic prospect of securing a place.
A child living near Birmingham city centre is not, through the normal admission procedures, realistically going to get into a popular school miles away that allocates places based upon distance from the school. A non-Catholic pupil is unlikely to secure a place at a school whose admission criteria gives priority to Catholic pupils. The admission authority therefore allocates places in oversubscribed schools in accordance with their admission criteria/oversubscription criteria.
Parents are often left disappointed by the process. Parents can appeal against the decision not to offer a place at a school. If the admission arrangements are lawful and were correctly applied, an appeal panel hearing an appeal must first decide whether the admission of additional children would prejudice the provision of efficient education or the efficient use of resources. The panel must uphold the appeal at where it finds that the admission of additional children would not prejudice the provision of efficient education or efficient use of resources.
Where the panel finds that the admission of additional children would prejudice the provision of efficient education or efficient use of resources, it must then balance the prejudice to the school against the parent’s case. If the panel considers that the parent’s case outweighs the prejudice to the school it must uphold the appeal. In multiple appeals, where the panel finds that more children’s cases outweigh prejudice than the school can admit, it must then compare the appeals and uphold the strongest ones.
When places have been correctly allocated to the published admission number, it is hard to show that the admission of one further pupil would not cause prejudice – it reduces the staff/ pupil ratio. Panels need very good reasons to allow an appeal. Arguments that friends are attending the school or it is convenient for parents’ work commitments are rarely in themselves enough for an appeal to succeed. Parents need to be prepared to identify particular reasons why a school is appropriate for their child. If the child does not meet the criteria for any of the preferred schools, it will not be possible to offer any of the parental preferences and the child will be offered a place at one of the nearest schools with places available at the time places are offered. If parents only choose schools for which they are unlikely to be offered a place, they could after places have been allocated find that one that they might have chosen is oversubscribed and the child is left travelling some distance to school when a nearer or more appropriate school place could have been obtained. The only option then is to appeal. Appeals are far from simple and it can be difficult to predict the outcome.