COURT RULES IN FAVOUR OF HOUNSLOW COUNCIL IN ADMISSIONS CASE
Grove Park parents fighting for sibling priority disappointed in court's decision
The Court of Appeal has ruled that Hounslow’s school admissions criteria are not unlawful or unfair and do not breach the Human Rights Act 1998. Hounslow’s criteria state that pupils living inside a school’s Priority Admission Area (PAA), with or without siblings at the school, should take priority for places over children living outside of the PAA.
The Court saga over admissions criteria followed a successful appeal to the independent appeals panel by four families who had been refused a place at Grove Park Primary School, Chiswick. The Panel found that Hounslow’s adoption and application of its admissions criteria was unreasonable and therefore upheld the parents appeal. Hounslow LEA believed that the Independent Appeal Panel did not have power under the 1988 Act to determine that Hounslow’s admission arrangements were unreasonable, and so started moves for the Judicial Review.
The Courts decision, made by Lord Justices Kennedy, May and Tuckey, also confirms that prioritising new pupils through PAAs does not contravene the Human Rights Act, though it is important for Local Education Authorities and Admissions Authorities to take extenuating family circumstances into account.
More than 21 LEAs, covering tens of thousands of parents, operate identical Admission Criteria to Hounslow. The court decision will bring relief to those who were awaiting the outcome of these proceedings.
On hearing the result Cllr Colin Ellar, Executive Member for Education, said, “this result again vindicates the importance that we place on ensuring that children can attend their local school in Hounslow, and especially the right for all parents to have first choice at their local school. This case was not about discriminating against brothers and sisters, indeed local children with siblings at their local school have the top priority at that school.”
Cllr Ellar continued, “Choosing a primary school is one of the most important decisions that parents will make, and with so many popular and successful schools in Hounslow this means that there is often competition for places. It is always a difficult decision to have to refuse some parents their preferred school but the legislation for limiting class sizes means that we have an obligation to make these decisions. We cannot compromise teaching quality in these cases and inevitably some parents will be disappointed.”
Admissions to Primary Schools has become more difficult since the Government imposed a class size limit of 30 children per class for the first three years of primary education
Identifying that the statutory class size limitation in infant schools cause more acute problems of over subscription, the Court explains that the admission decision needs to have “reasonable objective justification” and that, “If there are too few infant class places for all who apply, local education authorities have to make practical admission decisions which are objectively fair and by a process which is fair”.
Hounslow’s policy of admitting pupils to reception classes in the borough has been based on Priority Admission Areas since 1992. The policy is reviewed and agreed annually by the Council, following consultation with school Governing Bodies and parents, and it has never before caused such a problem.
2nd December 2002