Last Updated August 2015
The School Admission Appeals Code (SAAC) came into operation in 2012 alongside a new School Admissions Code (SAC). Minor amendments have been made to the latter several times since. These replaced earlier versions and both can be found on the Department for Education website here. The two fundamental changes are firstly that the Codes are now statutory, that is to say they carry the force of law, and secondly, that they are briefer, as government has tried to reduce the bureaucratic expansion of previous versions.
The bodies responsible for school admissions and appeals are called Admission Authorities (AA). The Local Authority (Kent or Medway Council) is the AA for all community or voluntary controlled schools in its area. Academies, Voluntary Aided and Foundation Schools and Free Schools are each the Admission Authority for themselves.
Where Admission Authorities or Independent Appeal Panels (IAP) contravene the rules of the SAAC, parents have the right to complain. For community, voluntary controlled or voluntary aided schools, the correct path is via the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO). For academies, complaints should be made to the Education Funding Agency. You will find further information on complaints by following the links to the two organisations, but essentially they will not recommend (LGO) or offer (EFA) a fresh appeal just because the AA or IAP has failed to follow the rules to the letter, the failure has to give rise to a possible injustice, i.e. a wrong decision by the Appeal Panel. Kent and Medway statistics for the two organisations give a sense of the relative likelihood of success.
The reduction in the appeals framework, has given AA and IAPs more flexibility in operating but in some cases, has introduced ambiguity in the rules. In others, there is no sanction for breaking the rules.
All Appeal Panel Administrators will send out a guidance leaflet in advance of the appeal to explain to parents the process and what to expect. These vary in quality.
I have selected some key points from the Code below (my notes in italics). The Paragraph numbers refer to the paragraphs in the Code, although I have deleted some points I consider less relevant to parents.
2.1 Admission authorities must set a timetable for organising and hearing appeals that:
a) includes a deadline for lodging appeals which allows appellants at least 20 school days from the date of notification that their application was unsuccessful to prepare and lodge their written appeal;
b) ensures that appellants receive at least 10 school days’ notice of their appeal hearing;
c) includes reasonable deadlines for appellants to submit additional evidence, for admission authorities to submit their evidence, and for the clerk to send appeal papers to the panel and parties;
d) ensures that decision letters are sent within five school days of the hearing wherever possible.
2.2 Admission authorities must publish their appeals timetable on their website by 28 February each year.
2.3 Admission authorities must ensure that appeals lodged by the appropriate deadlines are heard within the following timescales:
a) for applications made in the normal admissions round, appeals must be heard within 40 school days of the deadline for lodging appeals;
b) for late applications, appeals should be heard within 40 school days from the deadline for lodging appeals where possible, or within 30 school days of the appeal being lodged;
c) for applications to sixth forms:
i) where the offer of a place would have been conditional upon exam results, appeals must be heard within 30 school days of confirmation of those results;
ii) where the offer of a place would not have been conditional upon exam results, appeals must be heard within 40 school days of the deadline for lodging appeals;
d) for applications for in-year admissions, appeals must be heard within 30 school days of the appeal being lodged.
2.4 Any appeals submitted after the appropriate deadline must still be heard, in accordance with whatever timescale is set out in the timetable published by the admission authority.
2.5 When a local authority or an admission authority informs a parent of a decision to refuse their child a place at a school for which they have applied, it must include the reason why admission was refused; information about the right to appeal; the deadline for lodging an appeal and the contact details for making an appeal. Parents must be informed that, if they wish to appeal, they have to set out their grounds for appeal in writing. Admission authorities must not limit the grounds on which an appeal can be made.
2.8 Admission authorities must comply with reasonable requests from parents for information which they need to help them prepare their case for appeal.
2.15 Admission authorities must ensure that appeal hearings are held in private, and are conducted in the presence of all panel members and parties. One party must not be left alone with the panel in the absence of the other. (Note: this is too common an example of maladministration, leading to a fresh appeal).
The order of the hearing
2.16 The clerk must notify the parties of the order of the proceedings in advance of the hearing. A suggested order is set out below:
a) case for the admission authority;
b) questioning by appellant(s) and panel;
c) case for the appellant(s);
d) questioning by the admission authority and panel;
e) summing up by the admission authority;
f) summing up by the appellant(s).
From Previous Code: Panel members may ask questions at any time during the hearing to clarify what is being said or if they want to ascertain further information in order to reach a decision. However, they must not attempt to answer questions for the presenting officer or parents.
Multiple Appeals (most cases)
2.18 Multiple appeals are when a number of appeals have been received in relation to the same school (this is the norm). Admission authorities must take all reasonable steps to ensure that multiple appeals for a school are heard by one panel with the same members. Where more than one panel has to consider appeals for the same school, each panel must make its own decision independently. A panel hearing multiple appeals must not make decisions on any of those appeals until all the appeals have been heard. (Note: There is still at least one Appeal Panel that substitutes individual panel members for others as the appeals proceed. This is not allowed. Only if two Panels are completely distinct and make their own decisions independently for a multiple appeal can this be allowed; however, in the one case I have been involved it led to decisions which left the school, parents and myself deeply dissatisfied)).
2.19 Multiple appeals may be heard either individually or in groups. Hearing multiple appeals individually means holding a series of consecutive appeal hearings. The panel must ensure that the presenting officer does not produce new evidence in later appeals that was not presented in earlier appeals as this would mean that appellants whose cases were heard earlier in the process would not have the opportunity to consider and respond to the new evidence. If material new evidence comes to light during the questioning of the presenting officer, the clerk must ensure that the panel considers what bearing that evidence may have on all appeals.
2.20 When multiple appeals are grouped (increasingly common for oversubscription situations with both non-selective and grammar schools in Kent, the norm in Medway), the presenting officer’s case is usually heard in the presence of all the appellants at the beginning of the hearing. The appellants’ cases are then heard individually without the presence of other appellants. Where there are a large number of appeals, holding grouped multiple appeals offers efficiencies. (Individual appeals then consider solely the appellants’ personal case and do not hear further evidence about oversubscription issues).
2.21 Appeal panels must operate according to the principles of natural justice. Those most directly relevant to appeals are:
a) members of the panel must not have a vested interest in the outcome, or any involvement in an earlier stage, of the proceedings;
b) each side must be given the opportunity to state their case without unreasonable interruption; and
c) written material and evidence must have been seen by all the parties (Too often ignored, producing possible maladministration and injustice. One Foundation that operates grammar school appeals, has regularly provided information to panellists about individual performance not shared with parents. Panel clerks must send the same package of materials to panellists, school Presenting Officer and parents enabling the latter to be sure that their whole case has been submitted. As in 2.15, the Presenting Officer can have no contact with panellists before, during or after the appeal unless parents are also present).
Notification of Decision
2.24 The panel must communicate the decision of each appeal, including the reasons for that decision, in writing to the appellant, the admission authority and the local authority. The clerk or chair must sign the decision letter and send it to the parties as soon as possible after the hearing but not later than five school days, unless there is good reason. In the case of applications outside the normal admissions round, the child must be admitted without unnecessary delay.
2.25 The panel must ensure that the decision is easily comprehensible so that the parties can understand the basis on which the decision was made. The decision letter must contain a summary of relevant factors that were raised by the parties and considered by the panel. It must also give clear reasons for the panel’s decision, including how, and why, any issues of fact or law were decided by the panel during the hearing (Kent County Council is increasingly producing mass produced inadequate decision letters, often not signed by the clerk. This is a matter of serious concern for the LGO, but the EFA tends to regard it as maladministration not indicative of injustice).
Notes and records of proceedings
2.26 The clerk must ensure an accurate record is taken of the points raised at the hearing, including the proceedings, attendance, voting and reasons for decisions.
2.27 Such notes and records will, in most cases, be exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Data Protection Act 1998, but admission authorities receiving requests under those Acts for information or data contained in such notes or records should obtain legal advice. (KCC is currently (2013) providing such information to parents on request, but other Panel Administrators will often refuse. It is worth challenging them on the basis of their decision if you are considering a complaint).
Reaching Decisions on Appeals
(Where there is an oversubscription issue – all cases, apart from those grammar schools where there are sufficient vacancies not to be put under pressure of space).
3.5 The panel must uphold the appeal where:
a) it finds that the admission arrangements did not comply with admissions law or had not been correctly and impartially applied, and the child would have been offered a place if the arrangements had complied or had been correctly and impartially applied (this is most often challenged where parents believe that other children have wrongly been given priority or have gained places by fraud), or
b) it finds that the admission of additional children would not prejudice the provision of efficient education or efficient use of resources.
If the Panel decides there would be prejudice if additional children are admitted then:
3.8 The panel must balance the prejudice to the school against the appellant’s case for the child to be admitted to the school. It must take into account the appellant’s reasons for expressing a preference for the school, including what that school can offer the child that the allocated or other schools cannot. If the panel considers that the appellant’s case outweighs the prejudice to the school it must uphold the appeal (It is always a delicate balance deciding how much of your appeal should focus on the issue of oversubscription, rather than simply making the case for admission. Some parents simply ignore the first, whilst others go to town over it. I have considerable experience of how different panels react to the two strategies and so can maximise my clients’ chances of success).
Appeals for grammar schools
3.11 Designated grammar schools are permitted to select children for admission on the basis of academic ability and may leave places unfilled if there are insufficient eligible applicants14. Some admission authorities for grammar schools offer places to those who score highest, others set a pass mark and then apply oversubscription criteria to those applicants that reach the required standard.
3.12 (Only relevant for some grammar schools in Medway, none in Kent) Some admission authorities for grammar schools operate a ‘local review’ process to determine whether children who have, for example, failed the entrance test ought to be deemed as being of grammar school standard. The local review process does not replace a parent’s right of appeal against the refusal of a place at a school for which they have applied (KCC does NOT regard Headteacher Assessments as a Local Review, but as part of the assessment process. As a result, there are no problems in Kent and so Kent parents need not consider this as an issue. Sadly, misleading advice about the Code is posted on another website and although I have warned the moderators, they ignored my advice. As a direct result, some parents either pulled out of appeals they may have won, or else turned up and continue to turn up to appeals prepared for an issue that did not arise – See the section on Medway Grammar School Review and Appeals)
3.13 An appeal panel may be asked to consider an appeal where the appellant believes that the child did not perform at their best on the day of the entrance test. In such cases:
a) where a local review process has not been applied, the panel must only uphold the appeal if it is satisfied:
i) that there is evidence to demonstrate that the child is of the required academic standards, for example, school reports giving Year 5/Year 6 SAT results or a letter of support from their current or previous school clearly indicating why the child is considered to be of grammar school ability; and
ii) where applicable, that the appellant’s arguments outweigh the admission authority’s case that admission of additional children would cause prejudice.
b) where a local review process has been followed, the panel must only consider whether each child’s review was carried out in a fair, consistent and objective way and if there is no evidence that this has been done, the panel must follow the process in paragraph 3.13(a) above (This is only relvant in medway, see Medway Review).
3.14 In either case the panel must not devise its own methods to assess suitability for a grammar school place unrelated to the evidence provided for the hearing (the panel is not qualified make it own judgements about academic ability, but must reach decisions on the academic evidence provided. In the same way it is not able to make an assessment of written work submitted, nor interview the child, if present (not recommended) to determine their ability).
3.15 If a panel has to consider an appeal for an in-year applicant where no assessment has taken place, it must follow the process in paragraph 3.13(a) above.
Infant Class size appeals
It is very difficult to win an appeal where infant class sizes are an issue. See here for further details.
4.4 The panel must consider all the following matters:
a) whether the admission of an additional child/additional children would breach the infant class size limit (30 children wth one class teacher);
b) whether the admission arrangements (including the area’s co-ordinated admission arrangements) complied with the mandatory requirements of the School Admissions Code and Part 3 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998;
c) whether the admission arrangements were correctly and impartially applied in the case(s) in question; and
d) whether the decision to refuse admission was one which a reasonable admission authority would have made in the circumstances of the case.
4.6 The panel may only uphold the appeal where:
a) it finds that the admission of additional children would not breach the infant class size limit; or
b) it finds that the admission arrangements did not comply with admissions law or were not correctly and impartially applied and the child would have been offered a place if the arrangements had complied or had been correctly and impartially applied; or
c) it decides that the decision to refuse admission was not one which a reasonable admission authority would have made in the circumstances of the case.
4.8 The panel must dismiss the appeal where:
a) it finds that the admission arrangements did comply with admissions law and were correctly and impartially applied; or
b) it finds that the admission arrangements did not comply with admissions law or were not correctly and impartially applied but that, if they had complied and had been correctly and impartially applied, the child would not have been offered a place;
and it finds that the decision to refuse admission was one which a reasonable admission authority could have made.