Local authorities have expressed significant concerns about their capacity to support the school admissions placing request and consequent appeals process this year due to the Coronavirus outbreak.
We plan to amend The Education (Appeal Committee Procedures) (Scotland) Regulations 1982 ("the 1982 Regulations), The Education (Placing in schools etc. - Deemed Decisions) (Scotland) Regulations 1982/1733 (the "Deemed Decisions Regulations") and The Additional Support for Learning (Placing Requests and Deemed Decisions) (Scotland) Regulations 2005 ("the 2005 Regulations").
In order to change the deadlines for local authority consideration of placing requests and subsequent appeals (including where applicable, in relation to children with additional support needs) and exclusion appeals, and to provide increased flexibility in how appeal hearings are conducted.
Our intention is for this to be a temporary measure and that we would revoke these regulations at a suitable point once the Coronavirus crisis is over and relevant appeals are concluded. We have undertaken to revoke the regulations by 28 February 2021.
Who will it affect?
The policy primarily affects parents who have applied for a placing request and a smaller subset of those parents who appeal against the local authority's decision.
It will have a positive effect on local authorities and education appeal committees as it will relax the relevant statutory deadlines and give greater flexibility around how appeal hearings are conducted. Without such measures local authorities and education appeal committees may be unable to fulfil their statutory duties due to limited capacity and the requirement to operate differently arising from the current Coronavirus outbreak.
By providing greater flexibility for local authorities to manage the placing request and appeals process effectively, this will ensure that parents' right of appeal against a decision to refuse a placing request, or exclusion, will remain, albeit at a slower pace.
These measures are not time limited but are intended to be temporary and we have undertaken to revoke the regulations by 28 February 2021. Their impact will be limited to those parents who appeal placing requests decisions for entry to school in August 2020 and any ad hoc placing requests or exclusions appeals in the period to 28 February 2021.
What might prevent the desired outcomes being achieved?
It is possible that some parents' appeals will not be heard until after the new school term begins in August 2020, which, if the appeal is upheld, will have had the effect of delaying their child's entry to the school of their choice at the start of the next academic year. The extent of this effect is hard to quantify given the uncertainty as to when the Coronavirus outbreak will be over and schools will reopen. The regulations do make clear the expectation that local authorities and education appeal committees should complete the placing request and appeals processes as quickly as practicable. However, we believe that our approach of enabling hearings to be held remotely and across a longer timeframe is proportionate given the potential risk to public health of holding appeal hearings in person, even though in some cases this will mean children's school places will not be finalised until after the start of the new school year.