There has been much media interest this week on the issue of Infant Class numbers. The Labour Party has claimed that a relaxation of legislation by the Coalition has led primary school headteachers to allow infant Class numbers to increase over the statutory maximum of 30 children per class with a single teacher. This is based on an article in the Daily Telegraph. However, in my opinion, far more important is the ambition of both Coalition and Labour parties to reduce Infant class sizes below 30 also discussed in the document, although the resources required to build new classrooms, open new schools and employ additional teachers would be immense and are nowhere on the horizon. In any case, unless something is done to expand infant class provision then the limit of 30 children per class will become impossible to maintain.
In fact, my analysis of the data can find no incidence of headteachers in Kent or Medway choosing to ignore the regulations and, although there are a number of infant classes with numbers over 30, almost all are due to perfectly legitimate actions outside the control of headteachers.
To be updated. My previous article gives general figures on primary school admissions.
I am fielding many enquiries about infant class appeals and, sadly, having to explain that because of Infant Class Legislation, there is little or no prospect of success for most appeals, apart from the following five reasons:.......
INFANT CLASS LEGISLATION
The previous Labour government honoured an election pledge to reduce all Infant classes to 30 children by introducing what is called Infant Class Legislation that banned any class of over 30, except in certain very specific circumstances. Although the most recent Codes of Practice removed the sanctions for schools to keep to this legal requirement, it is rare that they are broken except in certain very specific circumstances. The rules are laid down in the School Admissions Code (SAC) and the School Admission Appeals Code (SAAC), both of which carry the force of law. The rules also apply to Academies.
Parents often puzzle over why they are allowed to appeal and informed of their rights so to do, when they actually stand no chance of success. Sadly, that is the way it is.
You will find a recent news item on this subject here.
The rules for Admissions.
Neither the school nor the Local Authority can offer more places than allowed by the Planned Admission Number, which you will find in the school or Local Authority Prospectus, except in very limited circumstances. SAC states:
2.61 The law does not require a child to start school until the start of the term following their fifth birthday. The date compulsory school age is reached is determined by dates set by the Secretary of State for the autumn, spring and summer terms. These are 31 August, 31 December and 31 March.
2.62 Infant classes (i.e. those where the majority of children will reach the age of 5, 6, or 7 during the school year) must not contain more than 30 pupils with a single school teacher. While admission can be refused on normal prejudice grounds once an admission number of lower than 30 (or multiples of 30) has been reached, admission must be refused on “infant class-size prejudice” grounds where the published admission number allows for classes of 30, and the school would have to take ‘qualifying’ measures to keep to the statutory class size limit if more children were admitted, e.g. employ another teacher.
2.63 The class size legislation makes allowance for the entry of an additional child in very limited circumstances where not to admit the child would be prejudicial to his or her interests (‘excepted pupils’). However, every effort must be made to keep over large classes to a minimum. These circumstances are where:
a) children with statements of special educational needs are admitted to the school outside the normal admissions round;
b) children move into the area outside the normal admissions round for whom there is no other available school within reasonable distance (admission authorities must check with local authorities before determining that a child falls into this category);
c) children admitted, after initial allocation of places on the local offer date, because the person responsible for making the original decision recognises that an error was made in implementing the school’s admission arrangements and that a place ought to have been offered;
d) children in care admitted outside the normal admissions round;
e) children admitted where an independent appeal panel upholds an appeal on the grounds that the child would have been offered a place if the admission arrangements had been properly implemented, and/or the admission authority’s decision to refuse a place was not one which a reasonable admission authority would have made in the circumstances of the case;
f) children are registered pupils at special schools and by arrangement with another school which is not a special school, receive part of their education at that other school;
g) children with special education needs who are registered pupils at a school which is not a special school and are normally educated in a special educational needs unit attached to that school, and attend, an infant class in the school (i.e. not in the unit), where this has been deemed as beneficial to the child.
2.64 Except in the case of f) and g), the child will remain an exception for any time they spend in an infant class at the mainstream school or outside the special educational needs unit. In all other circumstances the child will only remain an exception for the remainder of the school year in which they were admitted. Measures must be taken for the following year to ensure that the class falls within the infant class size limit.
The Rules for Appeals
Here SAAC states:
3.19 Where a child has been refused admission to a school on infant class size prejudice grounds, an appeal panel can only offer a place to a child where it is satisfied that either
a) the child would have been offered a place if the admission arrangements had been properly implemented;
b) the child would have been offered a place if the arrangements had not been contrary to mandatory provisions in the School Admissions Code and the SSFA 1998; and/or
c) the decision to refuse admission was not one which a reasonable admission authority would have made in the circumstances of the case.
The third of these cases is usually the one which parents seek to challenge and although it appears reasonably mild, it actually states that the appeal can only be upheld if the admission authority (school or Local Authority) could have gone outside the rules for admission (oversubscription criteria) for the child in question. This is exceedingly rare and relates back to the rules for admission. Many parents seek to challenge the rules themselves, on the grounds that they have a very powerful case for being admitted to that school and not the one they have been allocated and this should have taken priority over the rules, but this is not a valid argument.
The Code wants to leave Appeal Panel members in no doubt as to what 3.19 (b) means and goes on to clarify:
3.25 In order for a panel to determine that an admission authority’s decision to refuse admission was unreasonable, it will need to be satisfied that the decision to refuse to admit the particular child was “perverse in the light of the admission arrangements" i.e. it was “beyond the range of responses open to a reasonable decision maker” or “a decision which is so outrageous in its defiance of logic or of accepted moral standards that no sensible person who had applied his mind to the question could have arrived at it
Infant Class legislation does not apply only when there is a Planned Admission number of a multiple of 30. Some primary schools combine two different age groups into a class of 30. This can happen when the Planned Admission number is 15, or 20 or a multiple of these. The Code also covers these cases. Other arrangements include smaller reception classes feeding into classes of 30 in Years One and Two. Again the Code covers this case:
3.29 The panel must also consider whether admission of an additional child would cause future infant class size prejudice e.g. a school publishes an admission number of 60, admitting 20 children to three reception classes, which become two classes of 30 children in Years 1 and 2. Admission of a 61st child to reception would lead to one of the Year 1 classes exceeding the infant class size limit unless the school takes remedial measures, such as recruiting an additional teacher. Therefore there would be infant class size prejudice.
Possible reasons for appeal:
(1)you have exceptional circumstances - and if you don't know if your circumstances are exceptional, they almost certainly aren't! Those unlikely to be exceptional include some heart rending cases of difficulty of travel, poor schools allocated, parental commitments, and children heading off in different directions. None of these are likely to be accepted as reasons for AppealPanels to break the rules they are bound to follow.
(2) A second possibility is where Infant Class Legislation does not apply, for example when instead of the normal class size of 30 children, the intake is not a multiple of 10 or 15 (these two numbers allow mixed age classes of 30).
(3) Some church schools where the oversubscriptiuon rules have been loosely drawn up, and contain flaws.
(4) a mistake has been made and a child who is lower down the preference list than you, has been offered a place.
(5) A family has been offered a place on fraudulent evidence. This can be withdrawn, creating a vacant space.
65) a very small number of academies may be prepared to break the rules!
DON'T FORGET TO PUT YOUR NAME ON THE WAITING LIST OF YOUR PREFERRED SCHOOLS.
It’s that time of year again, when many parents call me or visit my website www.kentadvice.co.uk to ask me about supporting them in an infant class school appeal
Many enquirers are taken aback when I explain that in the vast majority of cases, although parents have a legal right to appeal and the Local Authority is obliged to tell them their rights, they have no chance of success. For regulations, known as Infant Class Legislation, compel schools to keep infant class sizes restricted to 30 children or fewer with one class teacher, except for certain very specific and rare exceptions. The number of additional Teaching Assistants is irrelevant. Independent Appeal Panels are instructed not to uphold appeals that would take such class sizes over thirty children, again with rare exceptions. The main one is where the Admission Authority, usually the County Council but, in the case of Foundation or Voluntary Aided schools the school Governing Body, has made a mistake in ranking the children so someone has been omitted by mistake. The regulations can be found at www.dcsf.gov.uk/sacode .
Occasionally an Appeal Panel will be swung by powerful mitigating circumstances to uphold a case against the rules (there has been a spate of twins sent to different schools recently), but continued pressure from above is likely to see even these decisions diminished.
The penalty for the school if the class size of 30 is breached can be severe. An Appeal Panel decision is binding so there is nothing the school can do immediately. However, if there are still over 30 children in the class the following September, the school must either employ another full time teacher to work with that class, or else divide it into two smaller groups each with their own teacher. The number of Teaching Assistants is irrelevant. As you can imagine, either option is a great expense and difficulty for a school, even if it has the room to put in another class.
Sometimes there are mixed age classes and you may see an intake of 20 children (with three year groups combining to form two classes) or 45 children (with two year groups combining to form three classes). Otherwise, if the number is not an exact factor, as in some small rural schools, there may be chances of a successful appeal.
Also at this time of year we see problems caused by admissions to church primary schools. The 104 Voluntary Controlled Church of England and Methodist schools in Kent have a box to be ticked if parents “have chosen the school because it is a church school” irrespective of the parents’ religion or beliefs if any. This is a bureaucratic nonsense, has nothing to do with religion and should be abolished, as every year it creates unnecessary grief from parents who didn’t tick the box, and find their child sent to a school miles away. Or even more poignantly, the church going family who actually chose the school for other reasons, but then find themselves excluded from their own church school. This device does not give priority to a single Christian to attend the school (there is no bar on devil worshippers ticking the box) and it is time for the church authorities to take action. My advice to every parent is tick the box. Even more bewildering to parents are the 68 CofE and Catholic Voluntary Aided Schools each allowed to draw up individual priority lists of applicants, generally featuring church membership in some way, occasionally bizarrely or ambiguously, although several also give a priority to members of other religions. Such schools are often in rural areas and have become Aided for some distant historical reason, depriving children of non religious families of places at their local schools. Government plans to increase the number of faith schools, apparently on grounds they are likely to be better schools, although the evidence is that where they are popular and successful it is because aspiring middle classes have better access to them. This is because many such parents are either church goers or else are willing to undergo a temporary affiliation. A Kent Aided School, recently out of Special Measures with an intake of just four children last year, is not unique and counters the argument.