The coronavirus pandemic has had a number of unexpected effects on us all. But for those staying with family overseas when lockdown started, the decision to remain with their loved ones until it was safe to travel has resulted in unusual and unique legal problems.
Our Education Law team has helped many families in difficult situations caused by the pandemic. Here is just one example:
Adam* and his mother went to visit family abroad for a few weeks but were stranded there as a consequence of airport closures and lockdowns. As the strict lockdown measures eased, the family decided not to travel home until it was safer to do so.
They decided they would either wait for the pandemic to ease, for a vaccine to be administered, or to return before the start of September so that Adam wouldn’t miss starting at Primary School.
In total, Adam and his mother remained overseas for over a year.
Meanwhile, in the UK the child’s father applied for a reception place for Adam, at the same school as their sibling. This place was awarded but then later withdrawn due to Adam being overseas for the past year using a policy to prevent families from claiming they live closer to the school (at a second home, or rented flat) to unfairly secure a school place.
Upon receiving this news, Adam returned to the UK with their mother as soon as possible.
The Admission Authority’s decision put Adam’s parents in a difficult situation, as the outcome meant that both of their children were placed at different schools that were almost 3 miles away from one another, without a car to transport their children.
How We Helped
Adam’s family asked us to assist shortly after the decision to withdraw their offer of place and we took steps to challenge the decision through a school admissions appeal.
Reception places can be exceptionally difficult to appeal. This is because due to legal restrictions on the number of pupils who can be placed in a single Reception class, any additional children must fit into a limited number of exceptions or be awarded a placement on the basis that the admissions criteria:
- Were unfairly applied
- Were unlawful
- Or the decision to refuse a place was unreasonable
The Admission Authority’s decision to withdraw the offer of place was based on the argument that at the time of the application closing date, the child’s place of residence was overseas and not at the address included on the application for the school place.
Admissions Authorities can withdraw an offer of place on very limited grounds, including where the application was deliberately misleading or fraudulent, and it used this to justify withdrawing Adam’s place.
We worked with Adam’s family and identified that they had advised the school and Admissions Authority throughout the year of their circumstances, and that they were advised it would have no impact on their application for a reception place.
We argued that the decision was unreasonable, given the advice not to travel unless essential, that there had been no indication it was essential to travel to the UK prior to September and that the application could not be fraudulent or deliberately misleading as the family had been open and honest about their circumstances.
It was also argued that the residence overseas was never intended to be permanent and evidence indicated that a return was always intended and had been attempted during the year but not completed due to increases in infections in the UK and Adam and his mother had not yet been vaccinated.
We also argued that there could be no benefit to lying about where Adam lived or would be living whilst attending the school, as it would be impossible for them to make the daily commute from the country they were temporarily staying in with family.
The Independent Appeal Panel also considered the stricter lockdown measures in place in the other country, which reassured the family that the spread of coronavirus would be better controlled where they were.
Based on the evidence we put forward, the Independent Appeal Panel agreed that a placement should be awarded to Adam for September. Adam’s family were delighted with this decision as it meant both siblings could attend the same school together.
If you feel like your child is unfairly missing out on a school place, because of issues caused by the pandemic or other reasons, get in touch with our Education team for expert legal advice.
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Simpson Millar Solicitors are a national law firm with over 500 staff and offices in Billingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Catterick, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, London and Manchester.