School Admissions and the Law
Parents have the right to be able to express a preference for a particular school that they would like their child to attend. It should be noted, however, that this is not an absolute right. This means that a school that is oversubscribed may not admit your child. On the flip side, a school that does have places should admit a child whose parent has expressed a preference for that school.
The Role Of Admission AuthoritiesAdmission Authorities decide whether a child should be admitted to a school. Each admission authority has an admission policy for each particular school. This policy includes:
- How many pupils they can admit
- The way they deal with more applications than they can admit as pupils
- Aptitude tests
- Waiting lists
- How they deal with late applications
If a school is oversubscribed, the admission authority will apply the oversubscription criteria to determine who gets into the school and who does not. The criteria is usually published in the school’s prospectus, or in an ‘information for parents’ leaflet. The criteria will often include the following
- Whether the school has a catchment area
- Whether any of the child’s siblings also attend the school
- Whether the child has Special Educational Needs
- Whether the child is in Local Authority care
Selection On The Basis Of AbilityChildren cannot be selected on the basis of ability unless the school is a ‘grammar school’. The only other time this is acceptable is if the selection procedures are objective, fair and do not discriminate on the basis of sex, race or disability. If your child has Special Educational Needs, they must be admitted to the school on their statement. This is the case whether the school has available places or not.
If you are unhappy with the decision of the admission authority you can appeal it. The appeal process is heard by a panel of between three and five members. The members of the panel should be independent both of the school and of the local authority.
Appeal ProcedureIn order to appeal, you need to have Parental Responsibility. Children over the age of 16 can also appeal in their own right. An admission authority representative will explain why the child was not offered a place at that school. The panel then decides whether the school’s admission criteria are in line with the School Admissions Code and whether, in the particular circumstances, the criteria have been correctly applied. Then, parents can put forward reasons why their child should go to that particular school.
If the appeal succeeds, the child will be offered a place. If not, the child can be put on a waiting list for their preferred school. They can make a further application the following year if a place is not offered before this time.
Other OptionsIf you are unhappy with the way that the appeal process was carried out, you can complain to the Local Government Ombudsman. They cannot overturn the panel’s decision, but can recommend that another appeal is heard instead.
Another alternative is challenging the decision of the appeal panel by way of judicial review. This is a complicated legal procedure that challenges the lawfulness of the decision that the panel made. This process can take a considerable amount of time and you are strongly advised to seek specialist legal advice from a public law solicitor or specialist education law solicitor before deciding to pursue this course of action.