Child unlawfully denied a school place

Bruce Greig
November 3, 2020

In this situation, a local education authority denies a child a place even though the child lives just round the corner from the school. It turns out the local authority were following a secret internal rule which did not appear in their admissions policy. Child wins.

This actually isn’t a mediation case. It was a tribunal, where I advocated as a volunteer, for the family.

The family had recently moved to a new house in a new village. Their first child was due to start school the following year, so the family applied for a place at the village school. They had raced to exchange contracts on their new house before the admissions deadline closed, so they could demonstrate that their home was in the school catchment area, as required by the admissions policy. They managed to exchange on time, and took the school application form with a copy of their house purchase contract by hand to the council offices just before the deadline.

The council refused their son a place and allocated him a place in a school in the next village instead.

It turned out, on close questioning in front of the Admissions Appeal Tribunal, that the council had an unpublished extra rule which they applied internally. The application deadline was 22 November (that’s when the family sent in their application, with evidence of the upcoming house purchase). But the council secretly ignored a planned house move if the family had not actually moved in by 8 January. (The family moved in on 15 January.) This 8th January date was not published anywhere, and the advice the family had received on the phone was that they just had to exchange contracts before the application deadline of 22 November.

So, we went to the Admissions Appeal Tribunal. I outlined the issues, explaining that the council has to follow their published admissions policy. They can’t just operate some extra rules, for their own administrative convenience, which they don’t tell anyone about.

At one point, the tribunal had to ask a very specific question which was something like  “On what grounds are you asking for this decision to be overturned?”. I’d already summarised everything, so I just answered “Because it is unlawful”. This prompted an audible giggle-snort from the tribunal’s clerk. She spoke up and apologised: “I was just taken aback. Not everyone is that concise.” (I think this was a compliment)

It was a short hearing, and the tribunal directed the council to provide the child with a place at his local school.

Fights about school places aren’t just about getting little Johnny into the middle-class school which teaches Latin and has prefects. Going to their local school is a completely different experience for children than being driven to some distant school. They’ll be able to walk to school. They will hang out with other children who are walking to school. They will be in the same local sports clubs. And so on. Worth fighting for.