Test…ing Times

As lockdown restrictions are extended for a further 4-week period until 5th March, the cancellation of AQE and GL assessments earlier this month have created a cloud of uncertainty around post primary school transfers.

On 5th January 2021, the NI Executive announced that both GL and AQE Assessments had been cancelled for academic year 2020/2021. This was a disappointing and frustrating announcement for many children due to undertake the assessments, and for parents who had worked hard throughout the year helping to prepare their children.

The question still to be decided is will my child be allocated a post Primary School place? Will my child get his/her first choice? What selection criteria will be applied to him/her? What if any of the criteria does my child meet?

An announcement followed from the Education Minister, Mr Peter Weir – schools were advised to create their own “admissions criteria” for pupils enrolling for the 2020/2021 academic year. Parents are now frantically searching for admissions criteria for their child’s preferred school to see whether he/she would get a place at the first choice school. It is inevitable that a significant number of schools shall be oversubscribed and as a consequence the admission criteria, which can differ considerably from school to school will be crucial in determining which pupils will secure a place. The admissions criteria must be lawful , requiring the school to ensure that it complies with the legislation covering amongst other things race, sex and disability and inherently prejudicial to those applying. Parents should therefore carefully consider the published criteria for each school and seek professional legal advice if the admission criteria appears to be flawed. If so, then in appropriate circumstances it may be possible to successfully judicially review the criteria. Any such application must be brought expeditiously.

It is advisable for all parents to familiarise yourself with each preferred school’s admission prior to submitting their application to ensure their child meets the specific requirements of that particular school(s). Some parents are already seeking legal guidance.

In Northern Ireland, all children aged 4 to 16 are legally entitled to a school place. Unfortunately, a child’s preferred choice cannot be guaranteed. If your child does not get a place at his/her preferred school then you have right to appeal this decision to an Independent Tribunal. The Education Authority (EA) sets up the Independent Tribunal. The grounds for appeal are-

(i) The post primary school applied for did not apply its admission criteria

(ii) The post primary school applied for did not apply its admission criteria correctly

The EA shall set a closing date for appeal applications to be submitted. Parents should pay particular attention to the EA’s website to ensure deadlines are not missed.

If you feel you have met either ground for appeal as outlined above then any such appeal should be submitted by completing the relevant appeal Form (AT1 Form). When considering appeals the Tribunal will look at all evidence which was available to the Board of Governors of the school applied for at the time they were offering school places. The Tribunal is only able to consider all documentation previously available to the Board of Governors– the Tribunal cannot consider any additional information and/or documentation which may be produced on appeal. a, The Tribunal has no power to challenge a particular school’s admission criteria.

If this process has been exhausted, and the parents and child are not satisfied with the outcome then in certain circumstances it may be possible to apply to the courts to Judicially Review the decision of these Tribunals. The grounds for judicial Review are limited to breaches of procedure bias and unfairness. Judicial Review does not provide an appeal on the merits. There are strict time limits which must be adhered to and as stated above the application must be brought expeditiously. The Courts in the past have provided relief to applicants and referred the applications back to the relevant bodies for a proper determination.

Parents of those pupils transferring to Post Primary Schools in September 2021 can submit their online applications to the Education Authority (EA) from 12 noon on Monday 1st March 2021 to 4pm on Tuesday 16th March 2021. In addition, the Admissions Criteria for Post Primary Schools will be available from the EA on Tuesday 2nd February 2021.

It is inevitable that disappointment will exist for some families once post primary school places have been allocated. It is up to the parents to then immediately follow the procedures we have set out above. If in any doubt you should seek legal assistance.

If you and your child are not happy with the decision made by EA in relation to post primary school placement and believe you have grounds to exercise your right of appeal then contact Louise McNally in our Family Law Team on 02890 200050. Louise will provide you with clear and concise expert advice and will help guide you through the appeal process and any subsequent legal challenge.