Parents of children refused a place at a school for which they have applied have the right to appeal to an independent appeal panel. The Coronavirus outbreak will impact on the ability of admission authorities (that is, local authorities, academy trusts or school governing bodies, depending on the type of school) to carry out admission appeals in the usual way. This is for a number of reasons, including that appeal panels held in person would break the current restriction on gatherings of more than 2 people, that there may be problems securing sufficient independent panel members and that partial school openings and closures may impact on meeting certain appeal deadlines.
In the last couple of weeks, the Department for Education has been considering emergency regulations and guidance to establish suitable, flexible alternative arrangements. This guidance has been published today.
Summary of the Guidance
Parents must continue to have the right to appeal to any school which has refused their child a place. Today’s announcement (15th April 2020) confirms that the Department for Education will be making regulatory changes that are intended to come into force on 24th April 2020. The new regulations will relax some of the current requirements set out in the School Admission Appeals Code 2012 and enable admission authorities to proceed with their admission appeals.
The intention is to give admission authorities as much flexibility as possible to manage appeals in a way that best suits local circumstances, while also ensuring families appealing an admission decision this year are supported and are not disadvantaged by the measures in place to protect public health. The Department for Education intends to disapply the requirement that appeals panels must be held in person and instead give flexibility for panel hearings to take place either in person, by telephone, video conference or through a paper-based appeal where all parties can make representations in writing.
In more detail
Parents must continue to be able to submit an admission appeal if they believe the school place they have been offered is unsuitable for their child. The new regulations will relax current requirements but will maintain obligations around natural justice and procedural fairness. The Department for Education has confirmed that guidance will reinforce the importance of training, following the correct procedure and ensuring fairness.
The new regulations will:
- disapply the requirement that appeals panels must be held in person and instead give flexibility for panel hearings to take place either in person, by telephone, video conference or through a paper-based appeal where all parties can make representations in writing;
- relax the rules with regard to what happens if one of the 3 panel members withdraws (temporarily or permanently) to make it permissible for the panel to continue with and conclude the appeal as a panel of 2; and
- amend the deadlines relating to appeals for the time that the new regulations are in force.
There will be no change to the clerking duties for admission appeals: clerks carry out a key role in relation to appeal hearings and provide advice on admissions law as well as keeping an accurate record of proceedings.
If appeals cannot be safely heard in person due to social distancing measures, the clerk will contact all parties and explain the temporary arrangements for appeals. The clerk should establish whether everyone has access to the necessary equipment and that the appellant is able to participate in a hearing by telephone or video conference.
Where an appellant fails, or is unable, to take part in the hearing, and it is impractical to offer an alternative date, the appeal may go ahead and be decided on the written information submitted. Where that happens, the appeal panel must take steps to ensure that the parties are able to fully present their cases, and be satisfied that the appeal is capable of being determined fairly and transparently. This reflects the existing School Admissions Appeals Code.
The new regulations are intended to support admission authorities and local authorities with both primary and secondary admission appeals over the summer and into the autumn. This is when the majority of all admission appeals take place.
The regulatory changes will come into force from 24th April (subject to legislation being put in place) and remain in place until 31st January 2021. The new regulations will apply to appeals:
- submitted on or after the day the regulations come into force;
- submitted before the regulations come into force but where the appeal has not been completed; and
- that are already underway but which have not concluded on or before 31st January 2021.
This timing is intended to allow local authorities and other admission authorities sufficient time to deal with the annual peak in appeals for children due to start new schools at the beginning of September 2020. The regulations will be subject to review and will only be kept in place for so long as they are required.
The new regulations will provide more flexibility for admission authorities to set new or revised deadlines for submitting an appeal but will ensure that appellants will be given at least 28 calendar days’ written notice of a new appeal deadline and at least 14 calendar days’ written notice of an appeal hearing (although appellants can waive their right to this). All deadlines for the hearing of appeals must be as soon as reasonably practicable. Decision letters should be sent within 7 calendar days of the hearing, wherever possible.
Burnetts education team is here to help
Schools, academies or parents with queries should get in touch with their usual Burnetts contact, Natalie Ruane, Caroline Redhead or any member of the Education Team.
The Department for Education Guidance is available here