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Education Appeal Committees: Proposals for Reform: A Consultation

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Background

Education Appeal Committee Role and Membership

Education Appeal Committees ( EACs) hear appeals from parents, young people who are over school age and under 18, and some pupils under school leaving age, against a local authority's decision to:

  • refuse a placing request; or
  • exclude a pupil from school.

Pupils may only appeal against exclusion decisions, and only if they have legal capacity. Pupils are generally presumed to have legal capacity from age 12. A parent will still have a right of appeal when a pupil also has that right.

The procedures which EACs must follow are set out in the law (the Education (Appeal Committee Procedures) (Scotland) Regulations 1982). EACs have the power to overturn an authority's decision. If an EAC does not overturn an authority's decision the parent or young person can appeal that decision to the local Sheriff.

Local authorities establish and run EACs in their area. The law requires every local authority to appoint people to sit on Education Appeal Committee panels in its area. Local authorities establish a pool of potential panel members, and then select pool members, to form an Education Appeal Committee to hear an appeal. Education Appeal Committees can have 3, 5, or 7 members. (For more information on who may sit on an EAC panel see pages 11 and 12.)

In 2004/05 over 696 appeals were made to EACs. The vast majority of these appeals (649) related to placing requests.

Education Appeal Committee decisions on placing requests for primary, secondary and special schools, by outcome

2000/01

2001/02

2002/03

2003/04

2004/05

Appeals granted

67

94

125

162

67

Appeals refused

542

527

612

314

280

Appeals under consideration

3

3

7

4

7

Appeals withdrawn prior to consideration

328

122

384

185

295

Total decisions (including under consideration)

612

624

744

480

354

Total decisions (excluding under consideration)

609

621

737

476

347

% of appeals which were successful

11%

15%

17%

34%

19%

Whilst we have statistics on the number of appeals made to Education Appeal Committees relating to exclusions, we do not have statistics on the outcome of these appeals.

Appeals made to Education Appeal Committees on exclusions, 2000/01 to 2004/05

2000/01

2001/02

2002/03

2003/04

2004/05

Appeals made to Education Appeal Committees

76

144

91

26*

47

* this figure does not include successful appeals

Scottish Committee of the Council on Tribunals Report

In 2000 the Scottish Committee of the Council on Tribunals, which supervises tribunals that operate in Scotland, published a report on Education Appeal Committees. The main findings and recommendations of this report were that:

  • processes were "often seriously unsatisfactory";
  • there was a "real and urgent need for relevant training";
  • a "national training programme [should] be established" which panel members would be required to attend before hearing an appeal;
  • neutral and accessible venues should be used;
  • local authorities should advise appellants to seek professional advice;
  • local authorities should hold pre-hearing meetings to ensure appellants were fully informed;
  • EACs should adopt a structured approach to their deliberations; and
  • the Scottish Executive should review "the constitution and workings of EACs".

The full report is available on the Council on Tribunals website, at www.council-on-tribunals.gov.uk/scot_pubs_sr_eac.htm .

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, CoSLA, responded to the report and published a revised version of their Code of Practice for the constitution and procedures of Education Appeal Committees.

In 2003 the Scottish Executive wrote to local authorities to gather information on how EACs operated in different areas, and to establish authorities' views on training. Most authorities had implemented all or most of the recommendations in CoSLA's response to the Committee's report. Many authorities offered panel members training, and most sent information to parents involved in the appeals.

Further research

In 2004 the Executive commissioned George Street Research to carry out interviews with parents whose appeals had been heard by an EAC panel. Those interviewed covered a geographic spread (with a mix of urban, suburban and rural locations) large and small local authorities, and appeals in relation to placing requests and exclusions.

The research highlighted that for many parents appealing to an EAC was a dispiriting experience, and most felt the system was unfair and worked against them. The key findings and recommendations of the research were that:

  • there is a "serious imbalance of power" between the local authority and parents;
  • existing panel membership is seen to be under implicit pressure to be more sympathetic towards the arguments of schools, which often form part of the local authority's case;
  • guidance should be produced on procedures at the hearing;
  • panel members should be trained;
  • the composition of the panel should be changed; and
  • parents should be provided with better information.

The full report of the research is published as an Annex to this consultation paper.

Scottish Executive officials have also attended a number of Education Appeal Committee hearings, in different local authority areas, to observe how the system currently works.

This consultation

We agree with the Scottish Committee of the Council on Tribunals that appeal tribunals must be independent, and equally importantly, must be perceived as such. The Committee's report and the research conducted with parents who have appealed to EACs show that the system needs to be improved if it is to be seen as impartial and have the trust of those who use it.

We want to have in place a system for hearing appeals against placing request and exclusion decisions that is fair, impartial, and transparent, and seen to be so by all those who use it. We are still in the process of deciding what will be the best way of achieving this aim, and the purpose of this consultation is to give you the opportunity to contribute your views. We are interested in all comments and suggestions on the current appeal system.

This consultation therefore seeks your views on EACs and possible ways of improving them. We are interested in all your views on the current appeal system, both positive and negative. This paper is, however, purely on the appeal system, and we have no plans to change the current placing request and exclusion systems.