Top school slammed over places

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ONE of Wigan’s top schools has been slammed by watchdogs for the “flawed” way it deals with appeals for those denied a place there.

The cases of three primary school youngsters who had been initially turned down for entry to the in-demand St Edmund Arrowsmith High are to be re-heard after their families called in the Local Government Ombudsman, Dr Jane Martin.

But the Ashton school is refusing to offer re-appeals to anyone else who may have fallen foul of the system errors identified by the LGO’s ombudsman.

Irregularities found by the investigation into the way the panel conducted the appeals included:

Not coming to a firm decision on whether the school was full;

Allowing the presenting officer to make positive personal comments in support of individual children’s circumstances: and

Not giving clear reasons to families why their children were not being admitted.

Dr Martin says that at stage one of the appeal process, the panel needed to decide whether or not the school was full. But the LGO found that it did not properly draw such a conclusion and instead admitted children and then considered each case on its own merit. However the report says the panel was not consistent in the reasons for admitting children.

Additionally, some of the letters sent to the families did not make reference to any arguments made by the parents, while other letters made only passing reference.

The LGO has asked the school to offer fresh appeals for all the unsuccessful children, using a new clerk and panel.

St Edmund Arrowsmith High, which regularly appears near the top of GCSE performance tables, does not accept there was fault but has agreed to offer fresh appeals for the three children who complained to the LGO, but not for other unsuccessful applicants.

Dr Martin said: “Throughout my investigation the school and the local council, which provided the panel, have not acknowledged the faults I have identified with the appeals process. A number of families were left uncertain about whether their children should have received a place, because of the panel’s poor handling of the appeal. The school now has the chance to restore the families’ faith in the fairness of the system by properly considering fresh appeals for those who complained to us.

“I would now urge them to extend this to all the families who were unsuccessful at appeal so that they can demonstrate that they have applied the wider lessons from the complaint.”

Local councillor Gary Wilkes, who has a daughter at St Edmund Arrowsmith, said: “It is one of the most successful schools in the borough so I can understand parents’ being upset not getting their son or daughter in the school.

“I sympathise with everybody whose children cannot get a place. It is very hard to get into as there is criteria and strict rules to the school that the headteacher must adhere to.”

Coun Wilkes said he hoped any problems would soon be resolved.

Attempts were made to contact the school and the Archdiocese of Liverpool, but due to half-term break no one was available to comment.

Parents who have concerns about the way that their appeal for a school place was considered can complain to the LGO, as set out in the School Admissions Appeal Code and the Local Government Act 1974. This does not include complaints about admission appeals to academies or free schools as they are not in the LGO’s jurisdiction.