December 2012

The know zone

  • A sixth sense
    Make sure your admissions criteria add up if you want to avoid attracting the wrath of the LGO, warns Richard Bird. More
  • Quids in
    How much teaching does £1 buy? It’s a crude estimate but with finances under increasing scrutiny, it could be a useful starting point for assessing value for money, says Sam Ellis. More
  • The leader as servant
    Janet Nevin is principal of Ashton-under-Lyne Sixth Form College in Lancashire, which was named outstanding school or college of the Year in the 2012 National BTEC Awards. A former part-time Ofsted inspector, she has also researched and reported on the career experiences of women managers in Catholic sixth form colleges. More
  • Red Nose Day 2013
    Red Nose Day is back – a chance for schools and colleges to have some fun, raise money and transform the lives of people in desperate need. More
  • Lead vocals
    Quotes from Barack Obama, Nelson Mandela, Oscar Wilde, Winston Churchhill, Indira Gandhi More
  • Adding value
    When budgets are tight, keeping staff healthy ensures your workforce is productive and supply costs are kept to a minimum. More
  • Telling fortunes?
    Will the government’s plan to replace GCSEs with EBacc Certificates have the potential to help raise standards as is intended? Or will it have the opposite effect? More
  • Leaders' Surgery
    The antidote to common leadership conundrums... More
  • Cause for grade concerns
    The ASCL Council meeting in Reading on 11-12 October was dominated by curriculum and qualifications – not just the GCSE English legal challenge, but also proposed changes to GCSE exams and the introduction of the English Baccalaureate Certificates (EBCs). More
  • Supporting success
    Many very capable leaders are put off working in challenging schools because of the vulnerability of the roles. It is better support, not higher pay, that will turn this around, says Brian Lightman. He outlines what an effective support package should look like. More
  • A war of nerves?
    Trying to win over the hearts and minds of potential students and parents is no easy feat – in many aspects it’s as daunting as facing the dreaded Ofsted inspector, says Ross Morrison McGill. More
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A sixth sense

Make sure your admissions criteria add up if you want to avoid attracting the wrath of the LGO, warns Richard Bird.

A recent case examined by the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) is a reminder that progression to sixth forms is not something that is entirely in the gift of schools.

The school had a clause in its admissions policy that effectively said that progression into the sixth form was dependent on the student being “evidently self-disciplined”. The student had had a fixed-term exclusion the year before and it was enough for the school to deny the student admission to the sixth form. This was clearly contrary to the School Admissions Code, which explicitly states that admissions must not be dependent on attendance, behaviour record or perceptions of attitude or motivation.

The school attempted to argue that accepting a student into the sixth form with a bad behaviour record would cause prejudice to education. However, none of the criteria for judging prejudice to education was met. So the ombudsman said that the school should admit the student and amend their criteria.

This is very different from the situation in fee-paying independent schools where the contract between parent and school has been held to be able to include a contractual term that allows a school to ask for a student to be removed if the school does not believe he/she can benefit from what the school offers.

Bound by contract

Academies, although independent schools, are bound by their contract with the secretary of state to operate admission arrangements in line with the maintained schools’ code, so converting to an academy would not have enabled the school in question to reinstate its policy.

It is worth adding that although fee-paying independent schools are entitled to have that clause, they are still obliged to act in a fair way. A judgment against another independent school found that it had acted unfairly in asking for students to be withdrawn because their parents were creating difficulties in the parents’ association.

A further LGO admission adjudication was more complex, not least because the school claimed to have legal advice that contradicted some of the conclusions the ombudsman had reached. It involved a Muslim father who wanted his daughters to attend a Roman Catholic school.

In ruling against the school the LGO said that there was no evidence that the appeal panel had responded to the detailed reasons why the father wished his daughters to attend the school. The panel had also made the common mistake of accepting that there must be prejudice to education simply because the school had reached its admission number.

Despite the fact that the girls would have been in different years, the argument was the same each time. The fact that the number in each year tidily matched the planned admission number suggested that the panel, over the years, had not been considering the individual cases brought before them.

That was not all. The panel, normally composed of five members, had been made up of four people because one member had had to pull out before the panel met for the first time but after papers had been circulated. The school explained that the clerk had decided that, since the papers had been circulated and there was no advice in the code, they had to proceed with four members.

The LGO’s comment that the fact that there was no explicit guidance “was not an excuse for not using common sense” is not the kind of judgment any school would wish to have made about it.

The school had converted to an academy during the case and so the LGO was technically not in a position to make recommendations, but as the ombudsman points out: “The Secretary of State for Education issued a statement in January 2012 confirming that he would endorse an ombudsman’s recommendation following an investigation into the actions of a school which has converted to academy status. This report will be referred to the Education Funding Agency. As an agent of the Secretary of State it will monitor the response to my recommendations.”

Need for apology

Academies are contractually bound to have admission and exclusion arrangements equivalent to those in maintained schools. Therefore, the recommendations from the LGO were that the school should apologise (to the parent) and that the school should consider both its clerking and the source from which it drew its legal advice.

It is easy to see how a school or panel can make decisions that seem sensible enough at the time only to find out later that they were not acting in accordance with their obligations. The moral is to be sure, not sorry.

  • Richard Bird is ASCL's legal specialist