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Question about appeals and primary school criteria for admissions

(29 Posts)
1charlie1 Thu 18-Apr-13 14:19:18

My friend is considering appealing her DS' primary school allocation, and I was having a look at the criteria for admission of the (much closer geographically) schools at which he failed to gain a place. He has a chronic, life-limiting medical condition, but none of the schools which rejected him list the presence of a statement of medical need as a category which warrants priority. (i.e. Looked-after children are prioritised, then church-goers, then siblings etc.)

I was under the impression that children who were mobility impaired/chronically ill would be given some priority of access to their closest school as a general principle, but does this depend upon the individual school?

Thank you in advance for any advice/ information you may have.

tiggytape Thu 18-Apr-13 14:25:23

charlie - schools do not have to give priority for children with medical or social needs. Unless the child has a statement, they do not get priority at any school unless the school is chooses to make medical needs one of its admission criteria. Most community schools do but more and more schools that set their own admission criteria are dropping the medical category.

That said, his circumstances might make an appeal viable under the unreasonable decision category i.e. a decision to refuse him a place that is so unreasonable it cannot be allowed to stand.
If for example he had a condition that meant he can physically only attend one particular school and medical evidence to back this up, your friend might want to appeal on that basis but the evidence would need to be quite strong that no other school would be acceptable given his condition.

1charlie1 Thu 18-Apr-13 14:36:51

Thank you for that information, tiggytape. When my friend went a while ago to have a look at the school her DS has now been placed in, she was very distressed afterwards, as when she mentioned her son's medical needs (among other things, he can't do any water or sand play, as he has CF), the teacher said that he would be required to spend playtimes inside. Understandably, my friend is completely devastated that her son has been offered a place at this school.

tiggytape Thu 18-Apr-13 14:44:59

I really do sympathise - I personally find it unjustifiable that faith or sibling links can rank above a child with a genuine medical need to attend a school.
I accept that to stop people 'trying it on' you'd need to force parents to supply really strong medical evidence that a child has an absolute need for just one school and that no other school will do but, if they can supply such medical evidence, the child should be prioritised for a place.

Unfortunately the law doesn't agree and says that schools can choose not to give any priority for children in this situation and therefore, apart from waiting lists, her only option is to appeal.

She needs to get the forms from the council and fill them in and return them ASAP. A letter from her son's consultant naming the school that would be the best one for his needs would be fantastic. Failing that, a letter from the Dr or consultant saying her son needs a school no more than 500m from home or a school with no stairs (or whatever it is about her chosen school that makes it so suitable) would help. She will need to explain to the panel why the council's decision, whilst legal and correct on paper, is so unreasonable given her son's illness that it should be overturned.

1charlie1 Thu 18-Apr-13 16:58:34

Thanks tiggytape. One problem is that she is 'against' the school she's been given (due to a number of reasons, but principally the appalling attitude of the staff member showing her around when she visited), rather than being 'for' any of the other choices (other than them being closer - and seemingly kinder). But I guess we'll have to put our heads together and come up with a compellingly positive reason why another of her choices must be 'the one'! Thanks again.

tiggytape Thu 18-Apr-13 17:24:27

charlie - that's often the case at appeal but the trick is not to present it in that light
eg don't say the staff at the allocated school were awful and showed no understanding. Instead say the school she wants has excellent pastoral care and were particularly reassuring at open day explaining the ways they are able to meet the needs of her DS. If they mentioned anything special they can offer a child with CF in terms of suitable activities or additional help, this would be even better.
It is all about matching his needs and best interests with things only the school she's chosen can offer.

1charlie1 Thu 18-Apr-13 18:21:12

That's very helpful, tiggy, thanks so much. thanks

lougle Thu 18-Apr-13 18:58:21

What sort of distances are you talking about here? Is there anything about the layout of the school which will be beneficial? Perhaps the size of the school being slightly smaller....

You really need to find concrete, factual, undisputable things that you can pin over the emotional feelings of your friend.

There are so many ways to say the same thing. "I hate school A, it's so cold and huge" = "School B is a small school where all staff know each child individually. This will benefit X enormously, as all staff will understand how his condition affects him on a day to day basis and will know if he is struggling..."

mintyneb Thu 18-Apr-13 21:00:47

1charlie1 as soon as I read your first post I suspected your friend's DS had cf. I say that as my 6yo DD has cf too.

I successfully applied for her reception place under the grounds of exceptional medical reasons. We are lucky in that we are halfway between two good schools so it wasn't as if we were trying to avoid a bad school in the application. In fact the other school is probably now considered to be 'better' than the one DD goes to!

As others have said your friend will need to come up with reasons why a school is best suited to her needs. I put forward several reasons (plus very importantly a consultants letter outlining dds day to day needs) and was lucky to have the LEA accept them.

Cf is a bad enough condition to have to deal with at the best of times so I really wish your friend all the very best in getting this sorted

1charlie1 Fri 19-Apr-13 08:12:31

Thank you for the helpful posts, lougle and mintyneb. Minty, I hope your DD is doing well.

mintyneb Fri 19-Apr-13 10:53:29

Thanks charlie. DD is doing really well at the moment, she had a really good winter thank god. Last year when she was in reception she had a dreadful winter and ended up being admitted for a bronchoscopy and 2 weeks IVs :-(. Must have been all the mixing of germs at a new school!

I don't really know how mn works but I think you can message me if you and your friend need any help in putting a letter together. I am more than happy to help

1charlie1 Sat 20-Apr-13 20:29:19

Thanks so much minty, friend just emailed me the thoughtful, comprehensive letter her consultant supplied with her application, and the LEA's rejection letter, which completely dismisses its contents. I am furious on my friend's - and her DS' - behalf! It's just a bland 'all schools in the borough can meet your child's medical needs', with no reference to the specific factors the specialist refers to, such as some of the schools having sand play areas where others don't so are 'safer', fish tanks in classrooms etc.
It is so disappointing, my friend feels that her child's condition has been completely misunderstood, and dismissed, by the LEA.
Even if the appeal is ultimately futile (because of infant class size issues, I fear), we all feel it must go forward, simply because of the LEA's attitude to CF.

1charlie1 Sat 20-Apr-13 20:30:17

ps, I'm so glad to hear your DD has had a good winter!

tiggytape Sat 20-Apr-13 20:36:53

1charlie1 - actually your friend does have a chance at appeal because she submitted strong medical evidence with the application.

She can appeal on the grounds that the LA have been unreasonable to disregard the specific recommendations of a medical professional treating her child. It is unreasonable for them to assert that they know better than a Dr what classroom features are potentially dangerous to her son and which ones are important.

Producing a consultant's letter at appeal if the parent had never mentioned medical needs before is trickier because they can't say the LA are unreasonable to ignore something never submitted
But, in your friend's case, I think she should go for appeal because she did submit it and the LA ignored it.

mintyneb Sat 20-Apr-13 22:46:58

Charlie, I'm not surprised your friend is angry with the LEA and how they have treated her application.

There are roughly 66 million people living in the UK. Only 9,000 people have cf of whom just over half are adults. So its a pretty rare condition. Most GPs will never come across a patient with cf in their entire career and the most they will know about the condition will be what they learned in gcse biology. Most schools will never have to deal with a child with cf so how the LEA can say that 'all schools can meet the needs of a child with cf' is beyond me.

It sounds like your friends consultant has written a really detailed letter which is a great start. I would now try and find things specific to the school she feels is best suited to her son.

I won't say everything I put in my application but I talked about things such as my preferred school was within walking distance - perfect for regular exercise; it has huge grounds that children have easy access to - exercise again; the number of toilets and how accessible they are to each classroom; the availa

mintyneb Sat 20-Apr-13 22:57:02

Sorry hit post too soon (clumsy fingers on my phone). The availability of a private room big enough for a bed should physio have to be done at lunchtime. My chosen school actually had a proper physio room due to the needs of an existing pupil.

The attitude of the school to how they handle medication. Some schools will insist on creon being kept in the office so the child would have to go there first every lunchtime before getting their lunch. Hardly inclusive? Other schools take their 'healthy eating' policy to such extremes that the poor child with cf who is desperately trying to put on weight is made to sit on their own away from their classmates as its not fair to the others to watch them eat crisps?! Again, where's the inclusion in that. Obviously 'all schools' do NOT know how to handle the condition!

I could go on as I have heard of so many horror stories. I'm just pleased to say that dds school is everything I thought it would be and they look after her cf needs really well.

lopsided Sun 21-Apr-13 19:47:53

What a cruel decision. The LEA insist on high attendance and yet won't help make life just that bit easier for a child with a serious medical condition. Honestly sometimes I just despair. I hope your friend appeals and wins.

1charlie1 Mon 22-Apr-13 18:30:27

Thank you for your advice, mintyneb, and for your kind post, lopsided. My friend does not have the energy currently to fight the LEA, but has appealed directly to her preferred school. They are very understanding of her situation, and we all hope that a place can be found there for her DS.

tiggytape Mon 22-Apr-13 18:49:10

charlie - an appeal isn't an informal request so going via the school will not help even if they totally agree with her. Most schools have no power to hand out places (only academies or VA church schools organise their own appeals - otherwise it has to be via the LA)

Please tell your friend this as I would hate for her to miss her chance to appeal.

It doesn't require a fight. She can fill in the form and send the consultant's letter and that's all she need do. If she really cannot face going to the appeal hearing itself, they will just make a decision in her absence but it is better if she can go as then she can answer questions and explain her reasons. She can take a friend or someone to speak for her if she prefers.

PanelChair Mon 22-Apr-13 20:08:01

Charlie - As tiggytape has said, schools can have medical/social need as an admissions priority, but they do not have to.

Your posts suggest that you are familiar with what an infant class size appeal signifies, in terms of having to demonstrate some sort of error, so I won't rehearse that here (I have just done it on another thread). But, because of the way in which ICS appeals are decided - and assuming she can't unearth any other sort of error in the processing of the application - your friend needs to convince the panel that the decision to refuse her son a place was so unreasonable that no reasonable person would have made the same decision and it can't be allowed to stand.

lopsided Tue 23-Apr-13 20:38:21

I think they are being very unreasonable even if its not their official priority order. Just like I think looked after kids should always get the school they need no matter what their religion. Honestly who begrudges the first crack at school places for kids to whom life has dealt a less than ideal hand?

Even though they could still deny the appeal what sort of heartless bastard would tell the mother of a child with cf that they should just suck it up. I reckon she could make a very good case to get the school she wants.

PanelChair Wed 24-Apr-13 17:27:33

Assuming that the parents can bring substantial evidence of why this particular school is best able to meet the needs of their child, I think many appeal panels would be very open to the argument that the decision to refuse was so unreasonable that it should be struck down.

PanelChair Wed 24-Apr-13 17:31:59

But please don't suggest that appeal panels that turn down appeals are heartless bastards.

Panels of course have some discretion over how they evaluate the evidence placed before them - it is often a matter of interpretation - but, even so, panels have to operate within the law and the terms of the admissions and appeal codes. They don't have a completely free hand and circumstances arise where, however much one might like the parent or sympathise with their plight, there are no grounds for allowing the appeal. Personalising it by calling the panel heartless really doesn't help.

tiggytape Wed 24-Apr-13 18:13:09

lopsided - really it is the school / admission authority who are heartless (if anyone is).

It is not a legal requirement for medical reasons to be given special priority in the admission process
In reality, most LAs and academies do choose to give priority to genuine medical need since this only affects a tiny number of applicants and can only be granted when very strong medical evidence is supplied.

Some admissions authorities however take the perfectly legal option of giving no priority whatsoever to medical cases
So even when a consultant writes a strong letter detailing why a child absolutely needs to attend that school, the admissions authority are perfectly within their rights to give zero consideration when allocating places.

It is the appeal panel who must then try to sort out any mess caused by the decision not to have medical priority in the school's admissions criteria in the first place. However appeal panels also have their hands tied by a law which means they are very restricted about when they can admit an extra child to reception and break the class size limit. So sometimes they are hugely sympathetic and yet have no power to do anythign to change it.

tiggytape Wed 24-Apr-13 18:16:09

To illustrate the point, a poster called notfluffy posted the question below to the appeals expert who came for a webchat last week:

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 old). 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.

It seems appeal panels are just as frustrated as parents who are affected by this.

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