There are two ways to challenge admission to secondary school:
1. The School Admissions Appeal Tribunal;
2. The Exceptional Circumstances Body.
An appeal can be made to the School Admissions Appeal Tribunal body to challenge a board of governor's decision not to admit a child to their school. The tribunal's powers are governed under Article 15(5) of the Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1997 and must follow a strict statutory test.
The tribunal must ask themselves:
1. Were the school's admission criteria applied, or applied correctly; and
2. If they had been correctly applied would the child have been granted entry into the school?
If the tribunal holds that the criteria was not applied/correctly, and that if they had been applied correctly the child would have been granted entry into the school, the school must make a place for that child in the school. However, if the tribunal finds that the criteria, if applied correctly, would have led to the child being refused from the school, the appeal shall be dismissed.
The tribunal reviews the situation as it was before the school when it purported to apply its criteria, it cannot substitute its own decision for the decision of the school.
The majority of cases we deal with involve the board of governors failing to take relevant consideration of the special circumstances application submitted by our clients.
Special circumstances is given a broad meaning and could include a bereavement at the time of the transfer test, the child or a close family member being unwell at the time of the test, or indeed a learning difficulty later being diagnosed, which would have impacted upon the child at the time of the test.
There is a tight deadline for submission of the appeal, and the date will be detailed in the letter of offer. This will also provide details of to whom you should submit the appeal.
The second way to challenge is through the Exceptional Circumstances Body. This body's powers are governed by the School Admissions (Exceptional Circumstances) Regulations (NI) 2010, and they consider application by parents that their child must attend a particular school. To make this decision they adopt a three-stage test:
1. Are the circumstances claimed exceptional?
2. Are the circumstances claimed personal to the child?
3. Do the circumstances claimed required the child's admission to the school, and only that school?
The body cannot consider circumstances which relate wholly or mainly to the kind of education provided at that school e.g. grammar versus comprehensive, circumstances related to a child's academic ability, or circumstances related wholly or mainly to the availability of transport to that school.
The legislation gives examples of exceptional circumstances, namely where in the opinion of a medical practitioner the child has been subjected to sexual abuse or where the child is looked after by an authority (Article 5).
There is no deadline for making an application, save that the child has been recently turned down from the specified secondary school.
If a parent wishes to appeal a school's decision to refuse entry to their child they should:
1. Be aware of the deadline to submit their appeal;
2. Complete the form as fully as possible, directing their reasons for appeal to the statutory tests outlined above;
3. Append all the necessary supporting documentation, to include their child's previous PIE and PIM scores verified by the primary school principal and any relevant medical evidence.
Worthingtons Solicitors have successfully dealt with a number of School Admissions Appeals, and Exceptional Circumstances Body applications. We can provide assistance and representation from the initial stage of submitting the appeal, to attending the appeal hearing to provide representation.