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Webchat about primary-school admission appeals with solicitor Anita Chopra, TODAY, Friday 19 April, 1pm

(89 Posts)
RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 16-Apr-13 13:25:08

We've invited Anita Chopra to join us this week for a webchat to answer questions on primary school admissions. Parents across the country will be receiving letters and emails this week with the all important news of whether or not their child has been allocated a place at their chosen primary school. If you haven't received the news you'd hoped for then Anita Chopra, a partner at Match Solicitors, a specialist education law practice, is happy to answer questions about the next steps and what can be done in these circumstances.

Anita is ranked as one of the top experts in the UK on primary school admission appeals, and is an expert in the areas of exclusions, admissions, and special educational needs and disability, acting on behalf of the parents and the children.

Anita regularly contributes to various publications including the Solicitors Journal and provides training on exclusions and admissions to Panel Members, Governing Bodies and Headteachers of Schools and Academies. In addition to this work, she is a member of the Advisory Panel for the Advocacy for Education Service as part of the National Autistic Society and ELAS (Education Law Association), and is highly involved in raising awareness of special educational needs in the UK. She was also shortlisted for Woman of the Year at the Asian Business Awards 2008.

Join Anita at 1pm on Friday 19 April or post a question in advance on this thread.

asperanza Sun 15-Sep-13 10:23:57

Hi everyone.
You all seem to have a great experience and I'm a major school mess in Haringey London.

I movend in the country from Italy just over one and half month ago more or less. I have two children. One is supposed to start year 2 this year and the other one is due to start reception next year and was just offered a place in a local nursery school.

The council processed the application for in year admission of my older child with huge delay (I applied as soon as I had a signed lease in July, before the term ended) and in spite of several phone calls to the council and several emails to understand the situation, they just refused to give any advice. Moreover, they tried several times to hijack the application to another council, since the closest school is actually located in another Borough (Barnet). I have several schools within 0.5 miles in Haringey and three schools within 1 mile in barnet and applied to them all. The closest school in Haringey is 0.3 miles way and the closest in Barnet is 0.1 miles away. Ovrall, between Haringey and Barnet, there are 12 primary schools within 1 mile. I applied to 8 of them.

After major argument on Friday (two weeks after beginning of school) over the phone, at the end of which, council offer said we had to wait for two more weeks, since they didn't know whether there were any places at all, same day a letter was sent with an offer for a school which is 3.4 miles in straight line.

Now I am supposed to take my older child along 6 miles route and three buses, all the way down to the extreme south of the Borough (I live at the far north end) and get my younger one, who is just three years old and cannot possibly travel that long, in a local nursery to which she was accepted and where they have primary school as well (it's the closest school located at 0.1 mile in Barnet)

As far as I understand it, the fair access protocol binds the council to find quickly a solution for overseas students who just moved to the country and they didn't do that. This would allow to think that a sort non-codified priority has to be given to pupils who are not yet registered in any UK school against the pupils who would just like to change school within the Borough.

Furthermore, the school admissions code mentions the fact that if the council doesn't have a school place at a reasonable distance, in case of an overseas student who just moved in the country applying for it, schools are allowed to go over the maximum class size of 30 pupils.

However the Councils are refusing a place in all the schools I applied for, based on oversubscription. They mentioned my child was put in waiting list with all the others, and refused to give the position.

If that's not enough, as my child doesn't speak english, she will need special education and care, possibly after school and we cannot support that, if she's at a school so far from where we live and so far from where her sister goes. Morevoer, the two closest schools are well equipped for that as one is specialized in language problems, and the other one has an Italian speaking teacher on the role.

Just to point things up, I have to say that all our neighbours, with whom my children are getting along and are the only friends they have in the country, go to the local schools to which I applied for.

Please. Do you think I have a case for appeal?

I'm going to contact legal advisors on that, but I have the impression that
-negligence over application
-evident lying by council officers about process state, situation and incoherent information given in writing that were denied by the schools directly (last friday they even denied the email I received with non-sens information over waiting list was sent by a member of admission staff and it was signed!!!!)
-overlook of basic rules (distance, overseas, language problems etc.)
-huge delays in arranging school place
-inclusion of my child in standard round applications, as if she just wanted to transfer school because, for some reasons, we are not happy with the one we have
-lack of a reasonable distance criterion on the offer made
etc.

could make a case.
Any advice is very welcome, as I'm in major distress
Ale

busymummy79 Wed 05-Jun-13 21:57:33

Hi I just saw your comment re applying on medical grounds, and would very much appreciate if you could give me any advice? I applied on medical grounds for my daughter to go to a school, 1.5miles away, out of catchement, applied with letters from 4 health professionals, but rejected as they didn't make a clear enough case. We are now appealing and my hearing is next week.

I don't think their admissions criteria were clear enough, but not sure how to argue this well?

If you are able to help, I can email my hearing notes?

Many Thanks
Priti

andreasscalia Sat 20-Apr-13 19:39:56

Message deleted by Mumsnet for breaking our Talk Guidelines. Replies may also be deleted.

ComeIntoTheGardenMaud Sat 20-Apr-13 17:59:44

Is it a primary school? Are there 30 children in each class? Ethnic background and having EAL are not likely to be the basis of winnable appeal in an infant class size appeal (and probably not in any other appeal) because the LEA will say - and, really, one would hope this was the case - that all schools should be able to meet the needs of a child with EAL and of children from whatever ethnic background.

tiggytape Sat 20-Apr-13 17:55:38

No kaem - especially not if the school have 30 children per class.
EAL is not classed as a SEN but even if it were, appeal panels must treat all schools as being equally capable of meeting the needs of all children.

The exception would be children with additional needs where the school has specialist provision eg a unit for hearing impaired children that a child with hearing problems would benefit from attending.

If she would appreciate a letter from you and you want to support her then that is fine but I don't think it would be allowed to carry much weight at appeal. If you do write it, do so from the point of view of language help not ethnicity. This has no place in school admissions at all.

kaem10 Sat 20-Apr-13 17:49:15

A friend asked me to write a letter to support her appeal as her child was refused their 1st school choice. My older daughter already attends this school and she is one of minority ethnic children in the school. She entered the school as an EAL child and she is doing tremendously well. Her child is also from a minority ethnic and he also has English as an additional language and she would like me write a letter on the ethnicity and EAL grounds. Is-it a realistic ground for an appeal knowing that the school is not in our catchment area?

PanelChair Fri 19-Apr-13 23:39:06

DocKitten - You could begin by checking where you are on the waiting lists for the schools you applied for. You can also double-check that your application was dealt with properly - ask the LEA to confirm the distance between your home and each school and the distance at which the last place was offered. If there has been any mistake - for example you live nearer than other people who have been given places on the basis of distance, say - you ought to be given a place.

Usually, staying with friends from nursery or convenience of parents' journey to work don't play any part in school admissions and won't win you an appeal. So far, so discouraging. But there is one more thing here. You mention your husband is in the Navy. The School Admissions Code 2012 says

2.18 Children of UK service personnel (UK Armed Forces) - For families of service personnel with a confirmed posting to their area, or crown servants returning from overseas to live in that area, admission authorities must:

a) allocate a place in advance of the family arriving in the area provided the application is accompanied by an official letter that declares a relocation date and a Unit postal address or quartering area address when considering the application against their oversubscription criteria. This must include accepting a Unit postal address or quartering area address for a service child. Admission authorities must not refuse a service child a place because the family does not currently live in the area, or reserve blocks of places for these children;

b) ensure that arrangements in their area support the Government’s commitment to removing disadvantage for service children. Arrangements must be appropriate for the area and be described in the local authority’s composite prospectus.

Paragraph (a) seems to be about families being posted into the area and ensuring that if they haven't yet got a confirmed address in the area they don't end up with places in all the worst schools, but paragraph (b) seems to apply for all Service families. It's very vague about what the LEA actually has to do to "support ... Service children" but if you were to appeal for school places I think you could make an argument that, for your child, staying with her friends and having an easy journey to school (say) would be part of removing that disadvantage. I don't know what a panel would make of that - especially if it was an infant class size appeal - but it might be worth a shot.

Are you in a Naval town/area? What did the LEA's school prospectus say it would do for Service children?

DocKitten Fri 19-Apr-13 20:20:59

Hi there, we have just got the acceptance letters for our DD primary school and didn't get any of the choices we wanted and are really not happy with the school that we have been given, it is across the other side of town and I wont be able to get her there then to work on time. My husband is in the Navy and away a lot of the time and most of her nursery friends are going to the Primary sch that we put as our first choice and we are in catchment for. What can we do as I am now thinking of possibly seeing if there is anyway we would be able to put her through private school as the one we have been given is so bad. I'm scared my DD will be bullied at the school as well

GreenEggsAndNaiceHam Fri 19-Apr-13 15:19:17

Thank you Anita. I have contacted your offices and received some very helpful information.

ComeIntoTheGardenMaud Fri 19-Apr-13 15:19:16

I understand that the six month rule comes from Catholic canon law. Not all Catholic schools insist on it.

MNBlackpoolandFylde Fri 19-Apr-13 15:04:27

I have never heard of this baptised before six months rule before until someone else on here mentioned it.

We had dd baptised at 12 months, we attended Church before she was born, I was just really poorly when she was born and for a while after so she was not baptised till then.

I could understand before three to stop people baptising purely for schools but 6 months?

GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Fri 19-Apr-13 14:15:14

And thanks to Anita for answering so many questions. smile

AnitaChopra Fri 19-Apr-13 14:14:27

Thanks very much for all of your questions over the last week. I do hope you have found my advice helpful, and I wish all parents who are appealing the very best of luck.

For more information and top tips, we are always available to help on our website at www.matchsolicitors.com or on the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/matchsolicitors

Best wishes,

Anita

AnitaChopra Fri 19-Apr-13 14:08:45

Reea

Hi Anita,
On what grounds can we appeal if we have not been allocated a place at any school? Not detailed in the letter but presumably all distance related.
Thanks

Hi Reea,

It is important that you obtain reasons for the refusal at the particular school(s) you wish to appeal for. It is incumbent upon local authorities and/or the school, depending on the type, to provide reasons so that you can prepare your grounds of appeal.

It is advisable to ask as many questions in advance so that you are fully prepared, these can range from asking about previous published admission numbers, how many appeals are being heard, and request clarity about the decision made.

AnitaChopra Fri 19-Apr-13 14:03:48

tethersend

I'd like to know if it could be seen as discriminatory to place a looked after child as lower priority than other children (ie parents) who practise the religion of the school.

I work with looked after children- some schools require children to be baptised within six months of birth, and make no exception for children who have been removed from their parents due to abuse or neglect.

Could it be argued that this practice is discriminatory?

Hi tethersend,

I agree that this seems unfair. Unfortunately the Code only says:

"Where any element of priority is given in relation to children not of the faith, they must give priority to looked after children, and previously looked after children, not of the faith above other children not of the faith"

A discrimination claim is unlikely to succeed; however, it is definitely an issue that can warrant some consideration to see if a creative argument can be brought.

It is important to note that faith schools are entitled to positively discriminate by virtue of their status, i.e. that it is a faith school.

AnitaChopra Fri 19-Apr-13 13:58:04

tiggytape

Similar question to gazza about discrimination where the admissions criteria is perfectly legal:

Academies set their own admissions criteria. Most academies choose to follow the traditional system giving siblings and children with special medical needs priority.
Some academies however have chosen to drop this medical needs category. Therefore children with a genuine and documented medical need to attend just one particular school may not be allocated a place at that school unless they have a statement.

These children are told the appeal process exists to correct this but that seems to be the wrong way round.
How is it not classed as discrimination for a child with a recognised disability but no statement to be blocked from having their needs met by the only school able to meet those needs (in the opinion of the parents and the medical professionals involved with the child)?

The laws on reasonable adjustment and ensuring disabled pupils are not disadvantaged seem at odds with rules that allow some schools to give no consideration to disability at all when allocating places. If it helps, the disabilities I am particularly referring to involve mobility and motor control issues impacting on ability to travel to school and to move around schools of differing layouts eg use stairs.

Hi tiggytape,

Thanks for your question - it is quite a complex one to address on this brief forum; however, the admissions process, including the consideration of the appeal panel, must be compliant with the equality act. Thus they cannot unlawfully discriminate.

Depending very much on the nature of your evidence and what was submitted at the time of your original application, I could see a potentially interesting argument to be made that the admission arrangements were not properly applied, or the decision to refuse admission was one which a reasonable admissions authority would have made in the circumstances of the case.

It might make for a ground of appeal worth putting forward. I would be happy to discuss this in more detail outside of the forum if you wanted to.

AnitaChopra Fri 19-Apr-13 13:56:24

Michelle1984

Hi,

Please can I have some advice I have been offered a place for my child reception class at Hackbridge school, I never even considered this school when i viewed 10 others as i considered this too far. My question is can i appeal on the distance and personal hardship? This school is too far away for me and I am quite shocked i have received it considering there are so may others close by, I also think i mis-understood the form and only put 3 options I didn't think they could give me 1 so far away. There is no direct public transport to this school from my house and is too far to expect my child to walk, it would also massively effect my working hours and I cannot afford additional childcare. any help would be appreciated smile

Hi Michelle1984 - I'm afraid it could be very difficult to appeal on those grounds if it is an infant class size appeal. Whilst the Panel will likely sympathise, sadly, and it is something I see very often, distance and personal hardship will not meet the appeal grounds. If it is not an infant class size appeal then you could try and appeal on personal hardship grounds - i.e. the prejudice caused to your child is greater than the prejudice that would be caused to the school by taking on another pupil.

AnitaChopra Fri 19-Apr-13 13:52:38

FrameyMcFrame

Dear Anita...we missed out on first second and third choice schools by 0.2, 0.1 and 0.3 of a mile sad

Now left with school where one of the teachers harassed me through my job (nothing to do with the school)... I only discovered she worked at the school AFTER we applied. No doubt my reasons for not wanting this school will not be accepted.
The LEA won't even give us info on where we stand on waiting list places.

Please help!!!!

Hi FrameyMcFrame,

I'm sorry that you missed out by such narrow margins, have you double checked the distances they stated are correct? (A long shot I know, but I have seen local authorities make errors before).

Unfortunately, I fear the teacher issue will not be sufficient to meet the legal tests for a valid appeal. The local authority for the school, depending on the type, must provide you with waiting list information, therefore you should ask for this without delay.

AnitaChopra Fri 19-Apr-13 13:49:56

lucylou2311

Would love your advice. Applied for eldest, for 5 of the nearest schools and was offered one that is 1 mile away, not on our list, that is 13th closest primary school. It is practically failing school, in an estate, is not somewhere we could walk to. Do we have grounds to appeal? I will get on as many waiting lists as poss but they are oversubscribed. I can't bear the thought of him going there and also his little brother. I wouldn't mind supporting a local school that needed to improve but this is no where near my community. Thanks.

Hi lucylou2311,

I am sorry to hear that you didn't get any of your choices for your eldest. It is always worth appealing; however, it is important that your appeal focuses on the reasons why your child should be given a place at the school of your choice that you are appealing for, rather than why he shouldn't go to the school that he has been offered a place at.

The law surrounding infant class size appeals is quite rigid, and thus makes it harder to succeed on appeal unless one of the following can be established:

a) Whether the admission of an additional child would breach the child class size limit.

b) Whether the admissions arrangements complied with the mandatory requirements of the Code and part 3 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998.

c) Whether the admissions arrangements were correctly and impartially applied in the case in question.

d) Whether the decision to refuse admission was one which a reasonable admission authority would have made in the circumstances of the case.

This can get quite complicated, so we'd be happy to discuss this further with you after the webchat.

AnitaChopra Fri 19-Apr-13 13:48:15

Monadami

I'm feeling very down. I applied for six schools in order of preference in Purley, Surrey. We currently live in Shirley, Surrey (both under same Council) as we plan to move to Purley before September.

After spending much time researching schools and looking at Ofsted reports for each, it seems all my choices have been ignored and a place has been offered at one of the roughest, most run down schools in my current area, which has previously received unsatisfactory gradings by Ofsted. I explained in my applications we would be moving and there is no way I am sending my son to that school, so looking into home Tutoring until I can sort this out.

I feel very worried, not sure what to do.

Hi Mondami - I am really sorry to hear that you did not get any of your preferred schools. Whilst I agree with others that it looks very difficult as that was not your permanent address at the time, it would very much be worth a bit more investigation (i.e. what kind of evidence regarding the Purley house do you have and what was stated on your applications) to see if any argument can be made (though it may still be difficult). One would need some more detail about the facts of your case. For example, I note Croydon’s admission booklet states:

Changes of address can only be considered where Croydon local authority receives either a letter from solicitor confirming the exchange and completion of contract for the new place of residence or a copy of the new tenancy agreement stating commencement date. Croydon local authority should be notified of changes of address by 11 February 2013. Failure to do so could result in your application being considered from previous address.

Parents should also note the Code does say: Appellants do not have the right to a second appeal in respect of the same school for the same academic year unless, in exceptional circumstances, the admission authority has accepted a second application from the appellant because of a significant and material change in the circumstances of the parent, child or school but still refused admission. Thus you could potentially also reapply once you are in your new place.

I'd be happy to discuss further - I have done a similar case not too long ago and we managed to succeed in getting the child admitted.

AnitaChopra Fri 19-Apr-13 13:43:17

Letsgetreal

My question is this:

We got our 6th choice and the letter basically said "sorry you didnt get into your top 5 choices but we've given you a place at your 6th" with no mention of why we didnt get into any of the top 5, details of what catagory we were in, distance from the school measurement, details of what catagory and distance the last accepted child was or anything.

How do we insist on the data we need so that we can make an informed decision whether to appeal? What rights/regulations/statutes do we invoke against the council to get this information?

Any help appreciated.

Hi Letsgetreal - Schools/Local authorities can often give very scant information with the decision letters, which I agree is very unhelpful and frustrating. You are entitled to access information about the appeals. In my experience we have always just written to the admission authority to request more clarity about decisions and they have always provided it (so hopefully you will not need to quote any of the Admissions Codes at the Council). However for your information the Admission Appeal Code says:

2.5 When a local authority or an admission authority informs a parent of a decision to refuse their child a place at a school for which they have applied, it must include the reason why admission was refused; information about the right to appeal; the deadline for lodging an appeal and the contact details for making an appeal. Parents must be informed that, if they wish to appeal, they have to set out their grounds for appeal in writing. Admission authorities must not limit the grounds on which an appeal can be made.

2.9 The admission authority must supply the clerk to the appeal panel with all relevant documents needed to conduct the hearing in a fair and transparent manner and in accordance with the specified timetable. This must include details of how the admission arrangements and the co-ordinated admissions scheme apply to the appellant?s application, the reasons for the decision to refuse admission and an explanation as to how admission of an additional child would cause prejudice to the provision of efficient education or efficient use of resources.

The Admission Code also repeats that:

2.24 Right to appeal - When an admission authority informs a parent of a decision to refuse their child a place at a school for which they have applied, it must include the reason why admission was refused; information about the right to appeal; the deadline for lodging an appeal and the contact details for making an appeal. Parents must be informed that, if they wish to appeal, they must set out their grounds for appeal in writing. Admission authorities must not limit the grounds on which appeals can be made.

There is therefore a requirement to provide reasons. If the Council were very difficult one could consider referring them to your rights under the Data Protection Act and Freedom of Information Act, but I doubt you will need to. They should be very used to parents asking for information as to what categories their child was placed in, etc.

AnitaChopra Fri 19-Apr-13 13:40:48

notfluffy

I sit on appeals panels. I feel very frustrated that there are often children and families with very good medical/social/family reasons for attending a particular school but they are not compelling enough to allow the appeal. I have also noticed that some primary schools do not have any "social/medical" admissions criteria at all so the parents have absolutely no chance (other than the looked after children, statemented special needs etc but it is unusual to see a statemented 4 year). In infant class size appeals it is particularly difficult to find grounds to allow an appeal.

Do you think we should look again at the whole primary admissions system and find a way of taking "good" reasons for choice into consideration; of course this is subjective but surely not more so than proximity (particularly for those in social housing who have no choice) or the parents religious practices?

I am in central London by the way.

Hi notfluffy,

I understand your frustration. There are quite a few people on this forum with potentially valid social and medical reasons as to why they feel their child should attend a particular school. I personally like such criteria, though accept it leaves more scope for challenge (which makes a lawyer's life more interesting!).

I would like it if the government introduced something stronger on this into the code; however, I agree it can be difficult to find valid grounds in infant class size appeal.

AnitaChopra Fri 19-Apr-13 13:37:27

besin

Dear Anita,

Thank you for the opportunity to ask you a question regarding primary school admissions.

A State Primary school in Wandsworth, London (Wix) has one English class and one bilingual class. Parents have the possibility to put a preference for English or bilingual (the latter being extremely oversubscribed).

The Council states that the parents who applied for the bilingual class have no right to appeal if they have been offered a place in the English class because the Independent Appeal Panel cannot decide whether a successful appellant should be placed in the bilingual or English class.

Could you please confirm that this is correct from a legal point of view?

In fact it is a way to block parents from appealing. In the application the choice is one primary school, but in reality it is rather two choices because in the application if your first choice is for the bilingual class your second choice can be for the English class or for another school. It has to be mentioned that the huge difference between the bilingual class and the English one is that the former guarantees automatic access to an excellent secondary school (Lycee Charles de Gaulle) while the latter is absolutely normal.

Anatoliy K.

Hi Anatoliy,

Thanks for your question. This is a particularly interesting scenario. I would need to see the admission criteria for this particular school; however, I can understand why an independent appeal panel cannot make a decision on whether a child should be placed in the bi-lingual or English class as they are not qualified to do so.

Not providing you with a right of appeal does not seem right and you could perhaps consider making a complaint to the school's adjudicator for the following year's proposed admissions criteria.

If you'd like to discuss this further please do get in touch after the webchat and I'll be happy to speak about the issue in more detail.

AnitaChopra Fri 19-Apr-13 13:33:27

GreenEggsAndNaiceHam

My daughter did not get into the voluntary aided c of e school that we expected her to get into. We fulfilled the criteria for church attendance and had the supplementary form signed as such. We think a mistake has been made as we know other children have received a place at the school under the church criteria. They live further away than us, so if all church places have been filled we would have got a place over them.

If I find out that we have been placed on the lower ranking distance criteria, rather than the higher ranking church criteria, what do I do? Would I need to appeal or would the va school / borough say a mistake had been made a give us a place anyway. The school will be oversubscribed, there will be 30 in the class , possibly/ probably twins

Hi GreenEggsAndNaiceHam - yours is a potentially interesting one. In my experience it can often be easier to find potentially decent and arguable appeal grounds for Faith Schools, often simply because their criteria can be quite complex and leave more scope for error.

There are a number of questions we could ask of the school in order to try and get the information to see if an error has been made, or if we can build a case to argue they have wrongly categorised your application. If it transpires that a clear error has been made which, had it not been made, would have led to a place being offered, we could try and write to them to see if they will amend this now and provide a place.

However it may well be that they don't and the matter has to go to a hearing, in which case we would very strongly be able to argue the case under the ground that: the admission arrangements were not correctly and impartially applied and the child would have been offered a place if the arrangements had complied or had been. I would definitely advise investigating further - I am happy to discuss this with you separately.

AnitaChopra Fri 19-Apr-13 13:28:23

Januarymadness

Hello and thanks in advance.

We have just found out Dd didnt get in to the place we wanted her to go. She has been allocated a place at a much smaller infants school.

My main issue is that dd has social issues and is unable to form friendships at the moment. She has been referred to the area SENCO and SALT but her SALT appointment isnt until next month. I am concerned that asking DD to move schools at 7 (or before if we waitlist her) will be a nightmare socially when she is already having severe difficulties and is going to need structure and continuity. Are these valid grounds for appeal?

Thank you again.

Hi Januarymadness,

I'm sorry to hear that DD didn't get into your first choice school. It would be worth appealing on the grounds that you mention relating to her social needs and learning difficulties. Much will depend on how much evidence of this was presented with your original application form.

If your evidence was extensive, there could be an argument to raise that not giving you your first choice of school could be considered 'unreasonable', i.e. the decision to refuse admission was one which a reasonable admission authority would not have made in the circumstances of the case.

On an aside, you may wish to have DD's learning difficulties assessed through the statutory assessment process. I also specialize in the area of special educational needs and would be happy to discuss this further with you.

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