Complain to the schools adjudicator

All state-funded schools in England must comply with the entirety of the English School Admissions Code. If an English school’s admissions criteria break the law or any area of the Code, then you can complain about it – what follows is our advice on how to do that.

(All state-funded schools in Wales must comply with the law and mandatory provisions of the Welsh School Admissions Code, but if a Welsh school’s admissions criteria break the Code then only local authorities and other schools can complain – hence we don’t consider Wales in what follows.)

If you are not sure whether a school’s admissions policy breaks the Admissions Code, or you want us to complain about a Code breach on your behalf, then please contact us.

Equally, if you submit your own objection, then please tell us. We would welcome being able to highlight your efforts and any successful objections.

Who can complain?

In England, anyone can complain about a school’s admissions arrangements.

When can I complain?

Complaints have to be made after the school has determined its admissions arrangements for the year after next (which must be done before 15 April), but prior to 30 June. So for example, schools had to determine their admissions arrangements for pupils starting in September 2014 by 15 April 2013 at the latest. Complaints can be made from the date of determination until 30 June 2013.

How do I complain?

Complaints should be directed to the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA). It provides advice on how to raise an objection, more general advice on how it makes decisions, as well as a form through which you can object (although note this has stringent character limits – you can make more substantial points in subsequent correspondence). The OSA also publishes all decisions it makes.

When filling in the objection form, you will be asked for your and the school’s names and addresses (although your objection can be treated anonymously), along with:

  • whether the admission authority for the school is the school or the local authority. If the school is a Voluntary Aided school, Foundation school, Academy or Free School, then it is its own admission authority. If the school is a Voluntary Controlled school, then the local authority is the admission authority. You can look up which the school is by finding it on Edubase;
  • which parts of the school’s admissions arrangements you are objecting to;
  • a link to the admissions arrangements;
  • which paragraphs of the School Admissions Code you believe have been contravened;
  • details of your objection.

If you know someone else who has objected, then there is no point also objecting – one is enough for the OSA to scrutinise the arrangements. Note also that in the unlikely event that there has been a recent objection made against a school ‘raising the same or substantially the same issues’, then the OSA cannot consider any further objections until two years have passed.

 What might I complain about?

Complaints should be focussed solely on areas where a school’s admissions policy breaches the Admissions Code. We’ve put together a summary of breaches of the current Code by religious schools, which is a useful reference, and also provided details of the most relevant rules below.

Areas of the Code that are particularly relevant include are given below.

  • ’15 a) All schools must have admission arrangements that clearly set out how children will be admitted, including the criteria that will be applied if there are more applications than places at the school. Admission arrangements are determined by admission authorities.’
  • ‘Admission authorities are responsible for admissions and must act in accordance with this Code, the School Admission Appeals Code, other laws relating to admissions, and relevant human rights and equalities legislation.’
  • ‘1.8 Oversubscription criteria must be reasonable, clear, objective, procedurally fair, and comply with all relevant legislation, including equalities legislation. Admission authorities must ensure that their arrangements will not disadvantage unfairly, either directly or indirectly, a child from a particular social or racial group, or a child with a disability or special educational needs, and that other policies around school uniform or school trips do not discourage parents from applying for a place for their child. Admission arrangements must include an effective, clear and fair tie-breaker to decide between two applications that cannot otherwise be separated.’
  • ‘1.9 It is for admission authorities to formulate their admission arrangements, but they must not:

a)      place any conditions on the consideration of any application other than those in the oversubscription criteria published in their admission arrangements;

e)      give priority to children on the basis of any practical or financial support parents may give to the school or any associated organisation, including any religious authority;

f)       give priority to children according to the occupational, marital, financial or educational status of parents applying (though children of staff at the school may be prioritised in arrangements);

i)        prioritise children on the basis of their own or their parents’ past or current hobbies or activities (schools which have been designated as having a religious character may take account of religious activities, as laid out by the body or person representing the religion or religious denomination);

m)    interview children or parents…

n)      request financial contributions (either in the form of voluntary contributions, donations or deposits (even if refundable)) as any part of the admissions process – including for tests; or

o)      request photographs of a child for any part of the admissions process, other than as proof of identity when sitting a selection test.’

  • Feeder schools
    ‘1.15 Admission authorities may wish to name a primary or middle school as a feeder school. The selection of a feeder school or schools as an oversubscription criterion must be transparent and made on reasonable grounds.’
  • ‘Faith based oversubscription criteria in schools with a religious character

‘1.36 As with other maintained schools, these schools are required to offer every child who applies, whether of the faith, another faith or no faith, a place at the school if there are places available. Schools designated by the Secretary of State as having a religious character (commonly known as faith schools) may use faith-based oversubscription criteria and allocate places by reference to faith where the school is oversubscribed. [However] Funding Agreements for entirely new Academies (i.e. not convertors from the maintained or independent sectors, or those sponsored Academies with a predecessor school) and Free Schools with a religious character provide that where the school is oversubscribed at least 50% of places are to be allocated without reference to faith.

‘1.37 Admission authorities must ensure that parents can easily understand how any faith-based criteria will be reasonably satisfied. Admission authorities for faith schools may give priority to all looked after children and previously looked after children whether or not of the faith, but they must give priority to looked after children and previously looked after children of the faith before other children of the faith. Where any element of priority is given in relation to children not of the faith they must give priority to looked after children and previously looked after children not of the faith above other children not of the faith.

‘1.38 Admission authorities for schools designated as having a religious character must have regard to any guidance from the body or person representing the religion or religious denomination when constructing faith-based oversubscription criteria, to the extent that the guidance complies with the mandatory provisions and guidelines of this Code. They must also consult with the body or person representing the religion or religious denomination when deciding how membership or practice of the faith is to be demonstrated. Church of England schools must, as required by the Diocesan Boards of Education Measure 1991, consult with their diocese about proposed admission arrangements before any public consultation.’

 In terms of equalities and human rights legislation, the Code also says the following.

Admission authorities, Schools Adjudicators, appeal panels, local authorities and maintained schools must comply with the relevant law as well as acting in accordance with the provisions of this Code. This Code and the School Admission Appeals Code (the Codes) are applied to Academies through their Funding Agreements. The information here aims to signpost the relevant law; it does not aim to provide definitive guidance on interpreting the law: that is for the courts.

Equality Act 2010

‘2. This Act consolidates the law prohibiting discrimination, harassment and victimisation and expands the list of protected characteristics. All schools must have due regard to their obligations under the Act and review their policies and practices to make sure these meet the requirements of the Act, even if they believe that they are already operating in a non-discriminatory way.

‘3. An admission authority must not discriminate on the grounds of disability; gender reassignment; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex; or sexual orientation, against a person in the arrangements and decisions it makes as to who is offered admission as a pupil [but see paragraph 6 below].

‘4. An admission authority must not harass a person who has applied for admission as a pupil, in relation to their disability; race; or sex.

‘5. An admission authority must not victimise a person in relation to a protected act either done, or believed to have been done by that person (e.g. bringing proceedings under the Equality Act 2010) in the arrangements and decisions it makes as to who is offered admission as a pupil.

‘6. This Act contains limited exceptions to the prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion or belief… Schools designated by the Secretary of State as having a religious character (faith schools) are exempt from some aspects of the prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief and this means they can make a decision about whether or not to admit a child as a pupil on the basis of religion or belief…

‘7. Admission authorities are also subject to the Public Sector Equality Duty and therefore must have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation, advance equality of opportunity, and foster good relations in relation to persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it.

‘8. The protected characteristics for these purposes are: disability; gender reassignment; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex; and sexual orientation.

‘9. Further guidance on the Public Sector Equality Duty is available on the website of the Government Equalities Office and from the Equality and Human Rights Commission [and see also the Department for Education’s advice].

Human Rights Act 1998

‘10. The Human Rights Act 1998 confers a right of access to education. This right does not extend to securing a place at a particular school. Admission authorities, however, do need to consider parents’ reasons for expressing a preference when they make admission decisions, though this may not necessarily result in the allocation of a place. These might include, for example, the parents’ rights to ensure that their child’s education conforms to their own religious or philosophical convictions (as far as is compatible with the provision of efficient instruction and the avoidance of unreasonable public expenditure).’

You should also be able to get an idea about how the process works and precedents set by looking at decisions involving voluntary aided schools that have had admissions objections that have been upheld (i.e. the adjudicator agreed with the objection), partially upheld or not upheld, or reading some examples highlighted by Humanists UK (a supporter of the Fair Admissions Campaign) last year.