Solicitor Debbie Ashton
has a very thorough understanding of the law, the tactics and the practicalities of conducting school admission appeals, derived initially from working as an Appeal Panel Clerk and Legal Adviser. Both Debbie Ashton and Nicholas Hancox have advised very many appeal panels

Debbie Ashton advised the parents of Child H on their application for admission to an oversubscribed secondary school. She suggested what should be mentioned in the the Notice of Appeal - and what might usefully be omitted. H's parents attended the appeal hearing without taking Debbie along, but she explained the process and gave them the confidence to see it through.

(A) School Admissions - What parents need to know
(B) School Admissions after Parental Fraud

(A) School Admissions - What parents need to know

School Admissions is an annual problem for some local authorities and schools - and an occasional problem for some parents and their children.

As parents, what can you do to maximise the chance of securing a place at your preferred school for your son or daughter? Our experience of many School Admissions Appeal hearings tells us that there are some very basic steps which, if taken at the right time, can make a considerable difference to the outcome.

So, a few simple points to bear in mind:

  • Read your local authority's School Admissions publications:
    Each year, your local authority publishes information about applying for primary and for secondary school places. Their booklet will tell you about the application process and about all the individual schools in their area. It will also tell you how places will be allocated, if a particular school is oversubscribed. It is very important to read the booklet, even if you know already which school you would like your child to attend.
  • Complete the Application Form:
    Ensure you give as much information as is needed. If you don't tell the local authority that your child will be looked after by grandparents who live close to your preferred school, or that your work takes you in a direction which means only certain schools could accommodate your family's needs, or that your child has previously been bullied and you want them to have a fresh start with friends who will support them... how will the local authority know?
  • Meet the deadlines:
    The booklet will tell you about what to do and when. If you miss the closing date, your application will not generally be considered until places have been allocated to all of the on-time applicants' children. If you move house or your circumstances change, tell your local authority. If you have moved, the local authority will want proof of your new address and when your child started living there. Make sure you send the required documents as soon as they are available. It is not enough simply to have told them that you were planning to move.
  • Be realistic:
    You may have only one school in mind for your child, but, if that school is heavily-oversubscribed and your application is unsuccessful, what will you do? It is wise to research your chances of getting into your preferred school and to specify other choices on your application form. Just because a school hasn't been oversubscribed in the past, there is no guarantee that it won't be, this time. If you don't get your child into your preferred school and haven't named any other schools in your application, the local authority will allocate your child a place at the nearest available school with places available.
  • And if the worst happens?
    If you do not secure a place for your son or daughter at your preferred school, you can appeal. Many places are allocated each year following successful appeals.

If you would like guidance on any aspect of the admissions process or assistance with an admissions appeal, we can help.

(B) School Admissions after Parental Fraud

Choosing a house in the catchment area of an "outstanding" state school is something that ambitious parents have been doing for many years. But recent reports suggest that some of these parents are not making a permanent move at all. Instead, they are simply renting a small house or flat in the relevant catchment area for the duration of the school admissions season. They give their new rented address as their permanent home address and gain an advantage in school admissions priority from that fraudulent deception.

The School Admissions Code 2014 says that an admission authority can withdraw an offer of a place in a state school, if the offer was obtained through a fraudulent or intentionally misleading application . This means that the admission authority can - and will - investigate and challenge school admission applications, where they believe that parents have made an untruthful application.

Parents who have recently moved into a chosen school's catchment area must expect to be questioned about the move. The first question from the admission authority is likely to be this: "Have you sold your previous home?" If not, the parents will need to show exactly why they moved house and will need to prove that the move was both genuine and permanent. Providing copies of recent documents such as utility bills, council tax bills, bank statements etc can be good evidence permanent residence in the new house.

If a school admission application is found to be fraudulent before the child starts at the new school, the school place will be withdrawn. If the fraud emerges after the child has already started at the school, then the length of time that the child has been at the school must be taken into account. A pupil's name cannot be deleted from the school's admission register without first being permanently excluded (expelled) from the school. Although the admission authority may prompt the school into action, it is only the school's headteacher who can decide to exclude a pupil. Statutory guidance on exclusions outlines how a decision to permanently exclude a pupil should be taken either in response to a serious breach of a behaviour policy, or where allowing the pupil to remain in school would seriously harm the education or welfare of the pupil or others in school. It can be argued that a fraudulent school admission application seriously harms the education of other pupils, but the law on that is far from clear.

When a headteacher permanently excludes a pupil they must notify the child, the parents, the governing body and the local authority . The notifications must include the reasons for the exclusion.

The governing body then has a duty to consider any representations from the parents about the exclusion. They must also consider the interests and circumstances of the excluded pupil and look at the circumstances in which the pupil was excluded.

In some cases, the parents can appeal to an Independent Appeal Panel from the Governors' Review, but this won't often help, because the Panel cannot reinstate the pupil.

To see a slightly melodramatic BBC report on how some schools are handling fraudulent school admission applications, click on BBC News


If you would like guidance on any aspect of the admissions process or assistance with an admissions appeal, we can help.