KCC now considers that the decision of the Adjudicator was irrational in a legal sense, and that it could be overturned if challenged by way of a judicial review (there is no appeal against an Adjudicator's decision). However, KCC has decided not to go down that route so their opinion will not be tested, and are now exploring how they can proceed with a PAN of 60 if it is legal and practically possible to do so. It will now need to apply for Planning Permission and also undertake a health and safety assessment but unfortunately, because of the delay in implementing this, the decision will not be known until after the closing date for primary school admissions; indeed KCC appears to acknowledge this will not be decided until after places are allocated in March! KCC also considers that it would in any case only proceed if the cost were reasonable, and so presumably any plans for expansion of the buildings would be drawn up taking this into account, which may in itself cause the planning application to fail, although such an outcome would clearly be unlawful.
Meanwhile, the Kent Primary School Admission Prospectus for parents is now ready for publication. For Bishops Down it confirms the above in stating: "At the time of going to print the school has a determined Published Admission Number of 30. Following an Adjudicator decision the LA will be seeking planning permission to increase the PAN to 60. The LA will also be undertaking a health and safety assessment into this proposal. In the event that either the planning application is denied or the health and safety assessment raises issues that cannot be overcome within a reasonable timescale or at reasonable expense the Published Admission Number will remain at 30. Further information will be published on the school website once a decision has been taken". It is therefore especially unfortunate that the Adjudicator made clear in her Determination that parents in Tunbridge Wells, and especially those considering Bishops Down Primary, had been left with an unacceptable degree of uncertainty over previous years, which this situation only exacerbates.
My previous article only covered a limited number of the many criticisms of KCCs incompetent handling of primary school provision in Tunbridge Wells in the Determination, although to date I have seen no formal acknowledgement of this by KCC. Instead the Authority has merely tried to suggest the decision is "irrational in a legal sense", without addressing the reasons that led up to this sorry situation. I accept that the root of the problem, whilst being precisely caused by KCC, lies in decisions made by the Authority in previous years, but that is no reason for the situation to continue.
The legally binding School Admissions Code, issued by the Government Department of Education states: "Any decision of the Adjudicator will be binding on the admission authority. It will be for the admission authority to implement those decisions without undue delay". Clearly KCC is in breach of this legal requirement. Interestingly, the School Admissions Appeals Code states with regard to appeals panels: "The panel must consider whether the admission arrangements (including the area’s co-ordinated admission arrangements) complied with the mandatory requirements of the School Admissions Code and Part 3 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998", and "The panel must immediately refer to the local authority any aspects of the admission arrangements it identifies as unlawful". What a minefield for any potential appeals panel, if the Authority sticks to its unlawful PAN of 30. For one can see the possible scenario of an additional 30 children being added to the school roll on appeal in June next year, too late for any permanent provision to be put into place.
Perhaps now is the time for KCC to level with parents over its previous mishandling of primary school admissions in Tunbridge Wells and how it now intends to act lawfully, rather than deliberately and knowingly flout its legal obligations.