The Jurisdiction of the Office of the Schools Adjudicator
The Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) has a supervisory
jurisdiction over maintained school and academy admission arrangements – by
which is meant not just the school’s admissions policy but also all related documents
– although that jurisdiction is limited by the fact that adjudicators can only
consider arrangements that are referred to them by an objection, are referred
to them by the Secretary of State or his associated entities such as the
Education Funding Agency, or otherwise come to their attention.
The adjudicators are somewhat anomalous in that they are
appointed by the Secretary of State
the OSA is part of the Department for Education (DfE) but they are required to
operate independently – which in practice they invariably and undoubtedly do.
They are required
act in accordance with the School Admissions Code (the Code) and admission
authorities – the local authority for community and voluntary controlled
schools and the school itself for foundation, voluntary aided schools and
academies of all descriptions – are required to implement any finding by the
adjudicator. Their decisions are governed by public law principles and thus are
susceptible to judicial review.
All admission arrangements must have over-subscription criteria
to determine, if a school is over-subscribed, in what priority places are to be
offered. The Code is prescriptive in many respects as to the permitted criteria,
but very often in practice adjudicator decisions are made in the light of the
overriding Code requirement
‘In drawing up their admission arrangements, admission
authorities must ensure that the practices and the criteria used to decide the
allocation of school places are fair, clear and objective. Parents should be
able to look at a set of arrangements and understand easily how places for that
school will be allocated.’
Until the Education Act 2011 came into force, the adjudicator not
only had the power to determine whether or not admission arrangements were
compliant with the Code but
also was able to determine specific modifications to those arrangements. That
meant that the adjudicator could, and did, re-write the arrangements which then
became binding on all concerned, usually for three years, although there was
power to reduce that period. The power of the adjudicator now, though, is
simply to declare that the arrangements are non-compliant and require the
admission authority to change them so as to make them compliant. That gives
rise to conceptual difficulties as to exactly what as a matter of law the
admission authority is required to do, which is considered in more detail below.
Under s 25 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (SSFA).
SSFA, s 84(3).
School Admissions Code 2012, para 14.
SSFA, s 88, repealed by s 34 of the Education Act 2011.
The full article appears in Issue 3 of 2014 of the Education Law Journal. If you subscribe to the journal please click here to read the full article.