DfE scraps plans for two-person admissions appeal committees

The government has decided not to allow school admissions appeals by panels of just two people due to concerns about the fairness of this setup – but remote admissions appeals by video or telephone have been given the green light.

The proposals for dual-committee and remote admissions appeals were brought forward during a consultation on the Schools Admissions Appeals Code in February to see if the new measures introduced for the pandemic should remain in place. because of the flexibility they brought to those involved in the process. .

At the time, legal experts said they believed the idea of ​​two-person calls could cause consternation among parents – especially if the two members disagreed, as the president’s decision would be final, which effectively means that a decision was made by one person.

This issue was indeed raised during the consultation by respondents and as such the Department for Education (DfE) said it had “decided not to proceed with the proposal” to two-person panels.

“Concerns have been raised about the fairness or perceived fairness of a two-person panel deciding an appeal and, in cases where the other panel members disagreed, the chairman having a deciding vote and the appeal being effectively decided by one person,” he said.

Notably, however, this move actually goes against the majority of consultation feedback, which was positive on the two-person panels, with 82% of respondents saying they agreed that “the Admissions authorities should have the ability to allow a panel of two to proceed”.

Listening to the minority

Laura Berman, a partner at law firm Stone King, said that despite this it was clear the government had “erred on the side of caution” – likely because it was not clear enough in its initial proposals as to when two-person panels would be used.

“It was clear from the wording proposed in the consultation that two-person panels were only going to be created in exceptional circumstances and, in fact, the majority of respondents to the consultation supported the proposal,” she said. declared.

” However…The circumstances under which a two-person panel would be appropriate were not sufficiently defined and there was a chance that this could lead to additional complexity and delays, ultimately defeating the purpose of the proposal.

Fiona Scolding QC – a public law lawyer specializing in education law, who has previously said Your that any move to two-person panels should only take place in “exceptional circumstances” – agreed and said it seemed “a sensible decision not to reduce the number of panelsgiven the fairness concerns that had been raised.

Rob Williams, Senior Policy Advisor at The headteachers union NAHT said it agreed it would be”be less than ideal if such an important decision potentially rested on one person’s shoulders”.

However, Tomas Thurogood-Hyde, Deputy CEO of Astrea Academy Trust, said that while it was positive that a minority view won out – stressing that engaging consultation responses can be worthwhile – no not moving forward with two-person panels seemed like a “missed opportunity”.

“The concern that the President might have a casting vote in two would have been easily alleviated by introducing a requirement for unanimity in two-person panels – this was proposed to the ministry during the consultation. The government is taking welcome steps to speed up admissions and bring certainty; this flexibility would have been in that vein.

As such, he said, this idea should not go away forever but be considered again in future adaptations of the admissions appeals process.

“The department must consider going further in its next consultation – for example, allowing governors to determine appeals in the same way as they do exclusions; allow paper sorting of appeals so that only those with genuine merit show up to the panel; and come back to the issue of two-person panels.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said the organization had supported moving to two-person appeal committees because it seemed like a “pragmatic approach to ensuring an appeal can continue to be heard without it being delayed with resulting anxiety for pupils and parents” – but said the decision the DfE had taken was reasonable.

However, we understand the concern expressed about the perception of fairness and the decision that was taken not to proceed with this proposal,” he added.

Your asked the DfE if it would consider reconsidering the idea of ​​a two-person appeal, but had received no response as of press time.

Remote calls

Elsewhere, however, plans to maintain remote appeal hearings will continue after 93% of respondents said they should be maintained.

“We are making changes to the calling code to enable the ability to hold video conference calls,” the DfE said.

“Appeal hearings are not public meetings, and therefore need not be held in a public forum.”

Although these can be conducted by video or telephone, the DfE said schools could only use conference calls where video was not possible.

“Appeal hearings held entirely by telephone are only permitted where videoconferencing cannot be used for reasons related to connectivity or accessibility and if the appellant and presenting agent agree. “

Thurogood-Hyde said the move was welcome: “Allowing video calls is a welcome modernization, preserving one of the few benefits to come from the pandemic.

ASCL’s Barton also said he was “pleased that the government is moving forward with changes to the calling code to allow for the ability to hold video conference calls”.

Finally, NAHT’s Williams said bringing technology into this aspect of school life could help avoid “unnecessary delays in the process” of admissions appeals and should therefore be welcomed.

Using technology for remote meetings could provide a more accessible format for attendees with specific needs, such as mobility and language requirements, and they could also help parents who need support with advocacy,” he added.

The new School Admissions Appeals Code will come into effect on October 1, 2022.

Dan Worth is editor of Your

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