Paid collaboration with CJCH Solicitors
Cardiff Mummy Says is delighted to be working with CJCH Solicitors on an ongoing series of articles exploring legal matters relating to families. Over the next few months we’ll be producing informative guides on issues affecting parents – from school admissions and term-time holidays to wills and child custody.
This month Sally Perrett and Jodi Winter from CHCJ’s Barry practice offer their expertise on appealing the school admissions process. If your child didn’t get the school place you wanted here’s everything you need to know about appealing the decision.
Please note that while all articles will be written in good faith by legal experts using the latest laws each legal case is different and these articles are not a substitute for individual legal advice.
CJCH cannot comment in these articles on individual cases. However they are delighted to offer Cardiff Mummy Says readers a free initial ‘case validation’ assessment of your matter (T&C apply, assessment may take place in person, via telephone or email). If you’re unsure if your matter can be pursued then get in touch via email or telephone to provide the facts of your case, and the team will assess the matter free of charge and confirm if they are able to act for you. CJCH are also offering Cardiff Mummy Says readers a 10% discount on their legal services (excludes external costs such as court costs and third party services and fees). Just quote Cardiff Mummy when getting in touch.
CJCH is a Wales top-20 law firm with headquarters in Cardiff, has grown to more than 100 members of staff. Its expertise covers the full range of legal services including commercial, corporate, dispute resolution, intellectual property, mental health, employment law, motoring, property, family, child care, crime, wills and probate.
CJCH Solicitors know that the wait to see if your child has secured a place at your first choice of primary school can be a very anxious time for parents. On Monday 16 April parents across South Wales received letters, emails and notifications informing them whether their application for their first choice school had been successful.
Applying for both primary and secondary School places has become a far more daunting task these days when even living within the school’s catchment area is not enough to secure a place at your chosen school.
If you weren’t successful at securing your first choice, there is still the opportunity to appeal to the Independent School Appeals Panel of your local admissions authority. If unfortunately, this is the case for you, you should have been sent guidance on how to appeal included with your letter or notification.
Remember that the best advice in the first instance is to ensure that you respond to any request to include your son or daughter on the waiting list in the event that a place should become available.
Secondly you can submit an appeal within the timescale provided. School Admissions Appeals operate in accordance with the Welsh Government’s School Admissions Appeals Code. While the procedure is generally the same the initial process for appealing varies slightly between admissions authorities and between the various types of schools.
Parents who submit an appeal will be given the opportunity to speak before the appeal panel if desired. An appeals panel is usually made up of three lay members from two categories – those being people without personal experience in the management of any school or provision of education in any school and people who have experience in education, who are acquainted with educational conditions in the Local Authority area, or who are parents of registered pupils at the school.
The decision of an appeal panel is final and is binding on the council or the governors of your chosen school as appropriate. The prospect of addressing the panel can be daunting. Parents can be accompanied to the panel by a friend or adviser. The emphasis is generally to create an informal atmosphere and therefore legal representation though not entirely necessary is perfectly acceptable. If you do wish to be legally represented at the hearing the clerk to the panel needs to be notified in advance.
You will be provided with certain information prior to the panel including among other documents a written statement summarising the reasons for the decision in respect of your child’s school place and the names of the panel members who will be hearing your appeal.
You will be given the opportunity to present your own evidence as to why you believe you have sufficient grounds to appeal either the school’s or the admissions authority decision and why you believe the decision made was unreasonable.
Two types of appeal
It is important to remember that there are two types of appeal, the letter inviting you to the appeal hearing will tell you what type of appeal it is, either an infant class size prejudice appeal or an ordinary prejudice appeal.
Infant Class Size appeals relate to Key Stage 1, which includes reception and years one and two. In these years places are covered by what is known as Infant Class Size Legislation. Welsh Government legislation sets out that apart from a few limited exceptions, it is against the law for children to be taught in classes of more than 30, unless there is more than one school teacher present.
Unfortunately, if your preferred school is operating under Infant Class Size Legislation, there are only two grounds on which an appeal can be successful. One is where the admission authority made a mistake that led to a place being denied; and the second is where the panel is satisfied that the original decision was ‘unreasonable’.
Many parents, understandably, believe that a decision to refuse a place is unreasonable and present information that they believe validates this position. Unfortunately, they are usually using the dictionary definition of unreasonable, whereas the appeal panel is required to use the legal definition.
What counts as an ‘unreasonable’ decision?
So, what is the legal definition of unreasonable? It has been described as the following in the School Admission Appeals Code:
The panel will need to be satisfied that the decision to refuse to admit the child was “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 had applied his mind to the question could have arrived at it”.
Infant class size appeal
To be successful with such an appeal, you really need to show that the admission authority made a mistake in dealing with your application. You will need to be able to demonstrate that the admission authority did not properly consider information provided with your application.
The easiest way to determine whether your appeal will be treated as an infant class size appeal is to look at the published admission number for the school. If it is 30, or a multiple of 30, then the chances are that it will not be difficult for the admission authority to convince an appeal panel that it should be deemed to be an infant class size appeal that will then limit the grounds on which an appeal can be successful.
However, if the published admission number is not 30, then it will depend on how the classes are organised. For example, an admission number of 45 may be deemed to be an infant class size appeal, if the year one and two classes are merged together to make three classes of 30 rather than four classes of 22/23.
To be successful at an ordinary prejudice appeal the panel will balance the unfairness to the school in admitting another child which may mean it is overcrowded, against the prejudice to your child in not being admitted to that school. There are no specific grounds which would result in a successful appeal, you must have compelling reasons for an appeal to succeed. The panel will consider the specific legal test already discussed and the child or parent’s individual circumstances.
The most commonly used grounds of appeal are: medical conditions or disabilities, special educational needs, difficulties with transport, difficulties with childcare provision, excellent standards or results, friends or family support at the school, alternative schools offered are not appropriate, and your child’s aptitude or ability.
Chance of success?
In Cardiff, in the school year 2015/16 there were 520 appeals sent in and only 42 of those were successful after a hearing. In the school year 2016/17 there were 524 appeals sent in and only 25 of these were successful after a hearing.
If you want to maximise your chances of success at appeal CJCH Solicitors are always on hand to offer advice on appeal or admissions queries. The Welsh Government has produced a frequently asked questions document on school admissions and school admissions appeals which you can access here.
CJCH is delighted to offer a free initial assessment of your matter (T&C apply, assessment may take place in person, via telephone or email) and a further 10% discount on their legal services. Just quote Cardiff Mummy when getting in touch.
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