The Department for Education is planning to relax regulations governing school admissions appeals so they are no longer required to be held face-to-face.
Temporary legislation is set to be introduced to ensure parents continue to have “the right to appeal to any schools which has refused their child a place” amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In guidance released today, the DfE announced it will be making regulatory changes, subject to legislation, which will come into force from April 24 and last until January 31, 2021.
Under current legislation admission appeals to either local authorities, academy trusts or schools governing bodies – depending on the school in question – must be conducted in person in front of three panel members.
However, the new guidelines disapply this requirement and instead give flexibility for panel hearings to take place either in person, by telephone, video conference or through a paper-based appeal where all parties can make representations in writing.
Additionally the rules have been relaxed to allow for one of the three panel members to withdraw, temporarily or permanently, and allow panels to continue and conclude with a panel of two.
Deadlines relating to appeals will also be amended – with revised deadlines giving “at least 28 days from the date of notification of refusal of a school place”, instead of the usual 20.
Schools minister Nick Gibb said: “During these difficult times, the government is doing all it can to mitigate the disruption coronavirus has on people’s lives and we thank both parents and the education workforce for their incredible efforts.
“Receiving the offer of a school place is an important time for families, and it is only right that the small number who are unhappy with their offer are given the same opportunity to appeal as in previous years.”
The new guidance explains the measures are designed to “give admission authorities as much flexibility as possible to manage appeals in a way that best suits local circumstances” while also making sure families appealing a decision are “not disadvantaged by the measures in place to protect public health”.
The regulations are subject to review and can be amended as required.
If it is deemed they are no longer required the time-limited regulations will be ended.
However, transitional provision will mean the new regulations will continue to apply to appeals that are already underway but which have not yet concluded on or before January 31, 2021.
The DfE say while the new regulation “relax current requirements” they will “maintain obligations around natural justice and procedural fairness”.
“We will not be relaxing any of the requirements on clerking and our accompanying guidance will reinforce the importance of training, following correct procedure and ensuring fairness.”
Clerking duties will remain intact throughout the process, with clerks continuing to provide advice on admission law and keep an accurate record of proceedings.