The Education Committee’s recommendation for the government to consider a Right of Appeal in all summer born admissions is NOT EVIDENCE BASED.
Suggesting a Right of Appeal means the Committee accepts that for some children, it is in their best interests to miss their foundation Reception class year, when no evidence at all was presented by the DfE or other witnesses during the Committee’s ‘evidence check‘ that this is true; in fact MP Nick Gibb even referred to recent university research demonstrating the disadvantages for children missing their first year of school.
To many, perhaps understandably, the suggestion of a Right of Appeal sounds like a positive development, something ‘new’ to be grateful for, but the Summer Born Campaign group does not welcome this recommendation at all, for the reasons outlined here:
- A Right of Appeal means that we accept the decision regarding year group (Reception class or Year 1) should be made by admissions authorities instead of parents, and we don’t accept this; we must remove the existing postcode lottery and this requires legislative change, clarity and equality.
- A Right of Appeal means that we accept there will be cases where children should not be allowed to enter Reception class and experience 12 years of education in the exact same way that other children do, simply because they’re starting school at CSAge (no child born in autumn, spring or born in summer but starting school one year early are ‘assessed’ to decide whether they ‘need’ their Reception year), and we don’t.
- The Education Committee conducted an ‘evidence check‘ but there was no evidence to suggest that it is ANY child’s best interests to miss a year of school; so why would we support a Right of Appeal process in a system that does and WILL leave some children missing a year of school, with others having access to a full 12 years? Parents have no confidence, in a culture that seeks to get children in school ‘as early as possible’, that an Appeals panel will be anything more than a further layer of unnecessary and unpredictable bureaucracy.
- The DfE (especially prior to May 2014 when the Summer Born Advice was changed to say parents shouldn’t escalate their complaints and concerns to the Education Secretary, but also after) has acted as a surrogate Appeals Panel, and has consistently sided with admissions authorities while publicly declaring support for flexibility. We are aware of numerous cases where the DfE has refused to intervene and act in the best interests of a child or support parents’ wishes, using ‘deference to local decision making’ and ‘the law is being adhered to’ as arguments to support children losing whole years of their education (Reception class and later on).
- The Code is the problem, and the inconsistencies and postcode lottery it provides for cannot and will not be removed by an Appeals system.
To explain this last point further, Michelle Melson explores:
What might an appeals process look like?
If it’s anything like the school admissions appeals process, it will not work.
Firstly, a parent may be dealing with more than one admission authority and therefore will have to appeal against each admission authority that refused their request. What would happen in cases where for example the same admission authority has granted a request for one of their schools but not another, solely because of the views of the head teacher (even though, since it is supposed to be the admission authority making the decision, this should never even be allowed to happen, but does)?
Secondly, an independent panel. This cannot happen while each admission authority, school and head teacher still has widely subjective and differing views regarding this issue; finding an impartial panel is going to be virtually impossible, and who decides whether a decision was or was not reasonable? Prior to the December 2014 Code, councils like Hampshire and Sheffield were saying ‘yes’ to all requests, yet we know that councils like Kent, Norfolk and Hertfordshire are fundamentally against ‘summer born’ flexibility – which council is compared to which when a ‘what’s reasonable?’ assessment is made?
We are aware of requests for May born children with no special circumstances being granted Reception class at CSAge but August born children with a file full of ‘professional evidence’ being denied – the inherent nature of this issue and the inconsistencies that the School Admissions Code allows for are clearly too subjective for any fair appeal.
Thirdly, there is no set of ‘criteria’ that can be tested to determine whether a decision is legal.
An admission authority may well explain why they refused a request and parents may well be able to give their own reasons why they feel the wrong decision was made, but what more can a parent do? They’ve already supplied as much information and ‘evidence’ as they can and the admission authority will have been ‘seen’ to consider the circumstances of the case.
So even any ‘independent’ panel will no doubt decide that procedures, as per the ambiguous Code were followed and nothing changes. The child will still be made to miss a year of education, solely for starting at CSAge. After all this additional, no doubt costly, bureaucracy, the only other option to overturn a panels decision would be via court action – again a lengthy, costly exercise that not all parents will be willing (or able to afford) to undertake.
The Right answer is so clear, and so simple – allow summer born children who start school AT compulsory school age an equal right to a full, uninterrupted education, and allow parents genuine choice regarding whether or not to enrol their child in school early.
Author and Journalist