Hertfordshire Seeks ‘Professional Evidence’ for Reception class entry and Decision Making Power Beyond its Legal Limits

IMG_8566Just this week, Hertfordshire County Council has demonstrated in an email to the parent of a summer born child just how the DfE’s (post)Code(lottery) allows admissions authorities to be ‘seen‘ to consider requests individually while simultaneously making it clear that some requests will be deemed more valid than others…

It also demonstrates the extent to which some councils will go in order to retain decision-making powers, even when legally it is an ‘own admissions authority’ school that the parent may be applying to – and it shows how easily parents might despair of fighting even at the first hurdle, and reluctantly enrol their child in school early.

It’s not the first time we’ve seen councils exert pressure and power on both parents and schools, but as an example of some of the problems going on with summer born admissions, this communication is a useful read:Published here with permission from recipient, in the public interest (my emphasis):

‘Out of Year Group’ applications can be considered without any supporting professional evidence and each case is heard on an individual basis, taking into account any information or evidence that is provided relating to the child. If there is no information or evidence that supports the claims made in the application then it is less likely to be agreed, however it will still be considered, complying with HCC’s duty to make a decision on the basis of the circumstance of the case.

As stated in the [DfE’s] guidance you have highlighted, we would “expect the parent to provide some information to support their request” as without it HCC would not be able to make a decision on the basis of the circumstances of the case, however we would not expect you to obtain professional evidence that you do not already have, as advised in the Dfe’s guidance.

In effect, an application without any supporting professional evidence would be weaker than that of one with such supporting information.

Furthermore it is also worth highlighting that if the ‘Out of Year Group’ application was agreed to be processed by the Local Authority and you were applying for a Catholic school, then the governors of the school will also need to make a decision as to whether they wish to accept the application, as the majority of these are their own admitting authority. Please note however that schools such as this cannot agree to accept an application for your child if the application to the Local Authority is refused.

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Comment by the Summer Born Campaign’s Michelle Melson:

It is astonishing how a local authority can state this – and this is a local authority we know is fully conversant with the School Admissions Code because of other parents also involved in David and Goliath type battles with them.

The School Admissions Code clearly states that the decision rests with the admission authority – so in the case of a voluntary aided Catholic school, the decision rests with the governing body.  No ifs, no buts – that’s the law.

This local authority is clearly not complying with legislation here, but who will hold them to account?

The local authority has a duty to process applications, but it doesn’t get to make the decision for this particular school preference, no matter how much they would like to have control.

Nevertheless, they still might.

We are aware of cases where schools who are their own admission authority have said ‘yes’ to parental requests, but have then made a u-turn when the local authority ‘persuaded’ them otherwise – including the threat of withdrawing funding in the case of a voluntary aided school (not in the case above).

Another case involved a council’s dramatic ‘over my dead body’ declaration when an Academy school agreed to a parental request – though fortunately in that particular case the Academy held firm.

It takes a strong Governing Body and a strong Academy Trust to put their head above the parapet and stand up to pressure from local authorities – although of course the opposite scenario can be true too.

We are also aware of cases where the local authority has agreed but then the head teacher of a maintained school (i.e. the council is the AA) has said they don’t agree with a Reception class CSAge start, and now that the DfE’s advice says councils “must take account of the views of the head teacher of the school concerned“, the application process can quickly become very complex and frustrating for parents forced to ‘request’ a full education for their child.

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5 Responses to Hertfordshire Seeks ‘Professional Evidence’ for Reception class entry and Decision Making Power Beyond its Legal Limits

  1. Samantha McCormick says:

    It’s saddening. Why do these people who have never met our children believe they know so much more than we do about them? The Code needs to be much more simple, giving the choice to the parents to take if that’s what they want. I am likely going to be facing similar and with no ‘evidence’ other than the huge amount of research which shows my child will benefit from a CSA start in YR with no threat of losing a year at any point it’s going to be a tough battle. It shouldn’t have to be!

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  2. Julie Thomson says:

    So essentially they’ve telling parents “we’ll adhere to our obligation to consider your request but if you don’t have professional back up in practise that just means we’ll read it and say no!”
    The reality is most local authorities don’t want parents to have this flexibility and will always be looking for reasons to say no. Durham County Council had a similar attitude and despite a local government ombudsman decision against them they are still giving misinformation to parents. The only way this is going to change is if starting in reception class at compulsory school age becomes an absolute right for all children.

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  3. Katherine says:

    This is awful. I really can’t understand why councils are so against this – with the framework in place, it could be a pretty simple process for parents to request deferred entry for their summerborns. There would be maybe a couple in each year group, and rolling year on year, wouldn’t really impact on allocation of places any more than normal fluctuation in population levels year on year. No child should have to go to school before they reach compulsory school age, and every child should be entitled to receive their full number of years of education – as the meerkats would say, “simples!”.

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  4. Boglarka says:

    November last year their wording was a bit more harsh (same admissions team)..:( So interesting to see the different wording in their e-mails to different parents. They totally put me off of even trying to start a fight for a reception place (very high burden…) “I have researched a response to your query. As I said when we spoke on the phone, if you wish for XXXXXXX to apply for a primary school place in Reception for September 2015, you will have to submit professional evidence to support your claim that he is not ready to go in to reception in this current 2014/15 academic year. Legally, a child does not have to start school until the start of the term following their fifth birthday. Where a parent of a ‘summer-born’ child (1 April – 31 August) wishes their child to start school in the autumn term following their  fifth birthday, they will normally need to make an In Year application for a Year 1 place).

     

    If you wish to you can make a primary transfer for a place in September 2015 with an out of year group request, you can do so. However as I sated earlier you will need to provide professional evidence to support your claim and there is a very high burden of proof for requests like this to be granted.

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  5. Gem says:

    Parental opinion is just not trusted or respected by LEA’s, its ridiculous that a professional that’s only seen a child for minutes has more power than a parent who has known the child all their life. It makes me angry how parents are treated in such a patronizing way

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