School admissions; a learning curve?
The recent Bournemouth School decision (ADA3284, 30 June 2017) from the Office of the School’s Adjudicator (“OSA”) provides admissions authorities with a clear reminder of their legal duties when seeking to amend admissions criteria.
The Bournemouth School, a selective academy for boys, had sought to amend its admissions criteria for its 2018 intake so that it gave second priority (after looked after children and previously looked after children) to pupils living within Bournemouth Borough Council. This meant that those boys living within the Bournemouth local authority area would be offered a placement over those living outside of the area, even if they did not score as highly in the entrance tests as boys from neighbouring local authorities.
The academy consulted on the changes by sending letters to head teachers of all primary schools from which the school had admitted pupils in the last 3 years and 5 local secondary schools. The same letters asked those schools to let any other related parties know of the proposal. An article was also placed in the Bournemouth Echo, albeit prior to commencement of the formal consultation period.
An objection to the change was lodged with the OSA by a member of the public (“the Objector”). The Objector raised a number of issues about the proposal and the process followed, although the two key complaints were:
- the new criteria was discriminatory and unlawful; and
- the consultation carried out in respect of the proposed change was insufficient.
The Objector referred to “The Greenwich Judgement” (R v Greenwich London Borough Council, ex parte John Ball Primary School (1989) 88 LGR 589  Fam Law 469). This case had previously established that pupils should not be discriminated against in respect of school admission simply because they lived outside the local authority area in which a school was situated.
The OSA was also referred to the Admissions Code. The Code states that pupils “should not be discriminated against simply because they reside outside the local authority area in which the school is situated”.
Whilst that all seems fairly clear-cut, Bournemouth School argued that it was simply seeking to save confusion by aligning its admissions criteria with a selective academy in nearby Poole. The selective academy in Poole already gave priority to pupils living in Poole.
The OSA rejected Bournemouth School’s argument. It said that its task was to consider the arrangements for Bournemouth School, rather than the school in Poole. Relying on the Greenwich Judgement and the Admissions Code, the OSA found the academy’s proposed amendment to be unlawful.
The OSA also found that the academy took insufficient steps to draw the attention of the proposed change to those likely to be disadvantaged by it. The OSA suggested that the academy should have:
- made a specific request that the change be drawn to the attention of pupils in Year 5;
- ensured that letters (containing the above request) were sent to all schools in Bournemouth and within parts of the neighbouring local authorities; and
- publicised the change in other local newspapers and media outlets outside Bournemouth.
It remains to be seen whether the school in Poole decides to reconsider its admissions criteria, based on this decision. If not, we anticipate an objection in the near future.
For more information contact Laura Thompson.