Coronavirus: Admission appeal panels could be held by phone or video call

The government is considering allowing admission appeals to be heard by telephone or video call, after a senior official said appeal panels should not meet during the coronavirus outbreak.

In a letter to councils, national schools commissioner Dominic Herrington said that “given the current restrictions we do not consider it is sensible to go ahead with admission appeal panels at present”.

The senior civil servant wrote to local authorities on Friday following questions about primary national offer day, which is April 16 this year.

He has also revealed the Department for Education is currently assessing the potential impact of coronavirus on school building projects and place planning.

In his letter, Herrington said the day primary national offer day “should continue as expected”, and that “many LAs have already told us that they have found ways to ensure that they will be able to deliver offers of primary school places as planned”.

However, some LAs “have requested further advice or support and the department is following up with LA admissions leads to establish what is required”.

Councils and other admissions authorities are particularly concerned about how to manage admission appeals, Herrington said.

The process involves appeal panels, which would normally meet in person to rule on appeals against admissions decisions by parents.

Herrington said the concerns were “understandable”, and that the government was “working urgently on emergency regulations and guidance to establish alternative arrangements which are suitable but also flexible”.

“We are looking at flexibility for admissions authorities to hold panels via telephone or video conference or in writing and at extending the normal timescales. It will remain important however that there is a formal clerk,” he added.

He also reminded councils that requirements around how appeal panels are carried out are “very detailed and failure to comply can result in maladministration complaints”.

“We will update you further on this ahead of primary national offer day.”

The letter also reveals that the Department for Education is “assessing the potential impact of COVID-19 on the sufficiency of school places for academic year 2020/21”.

As a result of the outbreak, the DfE has cancelled its pupil place planning national offer day survey. Instead, councils will have to fill out a “very focused, short return” which will “capture the vital latest information on the level of risk to your own school building projects (ie presumptions and expansions) for September 2020”.

This information will be joined up with DfE “intelligence” about the delivery of new free schools and priority school building projects due to open or move in September.

“This in turn will allow us to identify which local authorities require support in meeting their duty to provide sufficient school places and to engage with them on mitigations and contingency planning,” said Herrington.

He added: “By May we expect to engage with any local authorities with significant challenges, on what we can do to advise or support the delivery of local authority projects (where possible) and on contingency planning to deal with risks to either DfE programmes or local authority projects.”