April 16 2016 is National Offer Day for reception class places. But as it falls on the weekend this year it will be 18 April 2016. This is the day that hundreds of thousands of parents and children finds out which school they will be attending in September 2016 and if their school admission has been successful.
As always for the vast majority of parents and children, Monday 18 April will be a day of relief and they can start planning and buying uniforms for their children as they will have secured a place at the school of their choice and they can sit back and relax.
However, for those parents and children that did not secure a place at the school of their choice, the waiting and anxiety will continue as they contemplate what to do and whether to appeal against this decision. The problem is that the vast majority of potential appeals will be caught by the infant class size legislation and the limitations that legislation imposes. Most parents, quite understandably will want to appeal and explain to the independent appeal panels why they want a place at the school of their choice and the difficulties faced by attending the allocated school. These more often than not will include logistical difficulties in getting primary aged children to two or more different schools.
Sadly though, these are often factors that the appeal panel are unable to consider due to the infant class size legislation.
The School Admission Appeals Code that limits the parameters which panels can considers, prescribes only two grounds on which an appeal can be successful. The first is where the admission authority made a mistake denying a place at the school, and the second is where the decision is deemed to be unreasonable. Again many parents understandably will consider that the decision to refuse is an unreasonable one using the dictionary definition of unreasonable. However, appeal panels are obliged to take into consideration the legal definition of unreasonable which is much stricter and resulting in many appeals being unsuccessful.
The legal definition of unreasonable is defined as ‘perverse in the light of the admission arrangements’, i.e. it was ‘beyond the range of responses open to a reasonable decision maker’ or ‘a decision which is so outrageous in its defiance of logic or of accepted moral standards that no sensible person who applied his mind to the questions could have arrived at it.’ The definition and therefore the threshold for unreasonableness is very high.
So how can you improve you chances of a successful appeal?
Firstly, you can challenge if it is an infant class size appeal. You can do this by finding out how many classes there are at the school in question and how many teachers are employed at the school. The admission authority has to demonstrate that to admit an additional pupil will require them to employ an additional teacher but will they need to do this if, for example, there are seven classes at the school but ten full time equivalent teachers are employed at the school?
Secondly, you can check to see if the admission authority has made a mistake in dealing with your application. You can ask the admission authority to advise exactly why the application was unsuccessful. You will need to check the published admission criteria and ask how many places were allocated under each criterion. The chances are that the reason for refusal is down to the distance that you live from the school. The reason for this is that the majority of admission authorities use distance as either a main criterion or as a tiebreak. If you can establish how the distance has been measured, and you think a mistake has been made, you can then challenge the basis of the decision.
It is also possible that the authority did not take into account all the information that was provided with your application. This may be an issue if you are applying for a place at a faith school or under an exceptional medical or social criterion. Due to the uncertainty of establishing exceptional social or medical on an objective basis, many admission authorities no longer prioritise applications on this basis.
Thirdly, and lastly, was the decision unreasonable based on the information provided with the application? This is perhaps the most difficult reason to establish. For example, some admission authorities will use exceptional medical or social reasons to be admitted to a school. You will need to establish exactly what the criteria is for defining exceptional and also what information is required by the admission authority to be considered under this criterion. In addition, you will need to find out who made the decision and what advice was sought in reaching that decision. Many authorities require a professional to state that the school being applied for is the only school able to meet a child’s particular medical or social needs. The question to be asked, therefore, is ‘Is it reasonable to expect a doctor or consultant to be able to say with absolute certainty that the school being applied for is the only school able to meet a child’s particular medical or social needs?’ Can they be expected to know what provision is made in all schools to be able to say this? It could be argued that this is unreasonable even using the higher threshold defined above.
It is possible to exploit the appeal panel’s uncertainty about what does and what does not constitute unreasonable. I believe that many panels apply the lower threshold of what is unreasonable and therefore the more evidence that can be provided from professionals the more likely that an appeal may be successful. I am also aware that many appeal panel members do not like the restrictions placed on panels by the statutory regulations and will be sympathetic to parents’ arguments despite statutory advice to the contrary.
With careful research and planning, it is possible to win an infant class size appeal but this needs to be done before and not after the appeal.