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Case reference:                  VAR/000142

Admission Authority:             The Governing Body of Sawtry
                                 Community College

Date of decision:                14 January 2005


In accordance with section 89 (5) and (6) of the School Standards and
Framework Act 1998 and on the grounds that no major change in
circumstances has been advanced as the basis for the application, I
conclude that I am unable to determine the proposed variation to the
admission arrangements determined by the Governing Body of Sawtry
Community College. On that basis, the planned admission number for
the college for 2005-2006 will remain 195.

The referral

1.    The Governing Body of Sawtry Community College (“the college”), a
foundation school, has referred to the Adjudicator a proposed variation to the
admission arrangements (“the arrangements”) for September 2005. The
proposed variation is for an increase in the planned admissions number
(“PAN”) from 195 to 240.


2.    The referral was made to me in accordance with section 89(5) of the
School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (“the Act”) which states that:

 “where an admission authority (a) have, in accordance with subsection (4)
determined the admission arrangements which are to apply for a particular
school year, but (b) at any time before the end of that year consider that the
arrangements should be varied in view of a major change in circumstances
occurring since they were so determined, the authority shall refer the
proposed variations to the adjudicator and shall (in every case) notify the
appropriate bodies of the proposed variations”.

3.      Before proceeding to a determination over the proposed variation, I
have had to consider whether the proposal has been properly referred to me.
As I will explain below, I have come to the conclusion that the precondition for
referral has not been met, and therefore that the substance of the proposed
variation does not fall within my jurisdiction.

4.     In coming to my conclusions, I have had regard to the Act and
Regulations made thereunder, the Code of Practice on School Admissions
(“the Code”), Part III of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, Part III of the Race
Relations Act 1976, Part IV of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and all
the evidence presented so far as it is relevant to the variation.

5.     The documents I have considered in reaching my decision include:

         i. the Chairman of Governors and Principal‟s letters of referral of 8th
            and 19th November 2004 and supporting documents, and
            subsequent correspondence;

        ii. responses from Cambridgeshire County Council, which is the
            college‟s local education authority (“LEA”), Peterborough City
            Council (a neighbouring LEA) and the Peterborough Association
            of Secondary Schools;

        iii. the determined arrangements for 2005-2006 and the proposed
             variation to the arrangements;

        iv. a copy of Cambridgeshire‟s School Organisation Plan for 2003-

        v. a copy of Cambridgeshire‟s booklet for parents seeking admission
           to secondary schools in the area in September 2005; and

        vi. copies of the letters giving notification about the proposed
            variation to those were originally consulted or should have been

Consideration of the precondition for referral

6.      The Act is clear that an admission authority, when it refers a proposed
variation to the Adjudicator, must be doing so because it considers that the
arrangements should be varied in view of a major change of circumstances
occurring since they were determined. Furthermore, the Code (in paragraph
4.21) advises that „Admission authorities should consider very carefully before
referring a variation to the Adjudicator and should not do so once parents
have been asked to make their decisions, unless a major change in
circumstances makes this unavoidable‟.

7.      A letter of 9th November 2004 from the Office of the Schools
Adjudicator to the Chairman of Governors and Principal and an accompanying
explanatory leaflet explained the need for a major change in circumstances to
have occurred. The letter also quoted the Code, which explains that „a major
change in circumstances is considered to be a serious and unexpected event
affecting the provision of education at the school‟.
8.     Peterborough LEA has commented that it was not clear what major
change in circumstances had necessitated the proposed variation. The
college has responded: „We have provided a background commentary on the
developments of the College during the past ten years, which illustrates our
change in circumstances. The immediate issue has arisen because
Cambridgeshire LEA advised us to apply for a variation to regularise our
current position. We were advised that the new admission arrangements
administered by the LEA made this necessary.‟

9.     The college‟s submission, „Summary of the Background to Sawtry
Community College‟s Request for an In Year Admissions Variation‟, does
indeed describe the college‟s positive developments over the last ten years.
However, even if any of them constituted a major change in circumstances, it
could not be considered a justification for the referral if it had occurred before
the determination of the arrangements for 2005 admissions, since the Act
specifies that it must have occurred since the arrangements were determined.

10.     I have not seen evidence for the assertion that the LEA advised the
college to apply for a variation, although neither has the LEA denied the
assertion. Encouragement to make the application could not, in any case,
itself be considered to be a major change in circumstances, since the major
change in circumstances would itself have resulted in the encouragement to

11.    The Chairman of and Clerk to the Governors have written,
subsequently to the above: „The unexpected event affecting provision that has
occurred has been the Cambridgeshire LEA becoming responsible this year
for our admission arrangements‟. I assume that this refers to the new
responsibilities on LEAs for the co-ordination of admission arrangements.
However, it is difficult to see that this constituted a major change in
circumstances within the terms of the legislation, since co-ordination was
introduced by the Education Act and Regulations of 2002, and described in
the Code in February 2003. In any case, it is difficult to see why any variation
in admission arrangements should be necessary as a consequence of the co-
ordination of admission arrangements.

12.    I have seen no other description of a major change in circumstances.

13.   Parents will by now have stated their secondary school preferences for
September 2005, since the deadline for the return of common application
forms under the LEA‟s co-ordinated admissions scheme was 12th November
2004. The Code is clear that an application for a variation should only be
made after parents have stated their preferences if a major change in
circumstances makes this unavoidable.

14.     The college has previously itself decided to admit above the PAN. As
part of its co-ordination of admissions, the LEA have correctly stated that they
will, apart from the proposed variation, offer places only to the level of the
determined PAN of 195. It might therefore be argued that, since parents may
well have stated their preferences in expectation of a larger actual admissions
number than the PAN, it would be less disruptive of parental preference to
approve the proposed variation for one year. However, an alternative remedy
will be available to disappointed parents through the admissions appeal
system. By this means, independent panels would be able to judge whether
of not the admission of additional pupils would be prejudicial to the provision
of efficient education, and, if prejudice were demonstrated, would be able to
balance other factors particular to individual children against that prejudice.

15     Having considered all of the above factors, I conclude that it would not
be reasonable in the circumstances that apply to this referral for the
admission authority to have decided that a major change in circumstances
had occurred. Hence it was not possible for it to consider, as the Act requires,
that the determined arrangements should be varied in view of such a change.
On that basis, I am not able to proceed to the substance of the issues raised
by the referral of the proposed variation to me.

Other factors for future consideration

16.    Despite my conclusion that it is not within my jurisdiction to proceed to
determine the proposed variation, I intend to offer a number of comments
which may be helpful to the governing body in their role as admissions
authority for the college.

17.    Attention should be given to A.46 of Annex A of the Code, where
statutory guidance is given on a number of the issues in hand. Among the
other matters touched on there, it may be noted that the „exceptional
circumstances‟ in which pupils might be admitted above the PAN are taken by
the DfES to refer to such factors as a sudden influx of children into an area for
whom no provision would otherwise be available.

18.    The normal basis of setting or revising the PAN is on the basis of the
Indicated Admission Number resulting from Net Capacity Assessment. If the
governing body wished to enlarge the college premises, then careful note
would need to be taken of the requirements for the publication of statutory
proposals, summarised in paragraph 8 of the statutory guidance, „School
Organisation – Making Changes to Maintained Schools‟ (DfES/0395/2003).

19.    It seems likely that the college has not fulfilled the statutory duties of
consultation that fall to it as an admissions authority. The requirements are
set out in paragraphs 4.2, 4.3 and A.8-A10 of the Code.

20      Finally, the governing body may wish to consider improving its
published admission arrangements in a number of respects, so as to provide
greater clarity for parents and to avoid susceptibilities to formal objection.
Clarity will be particularly important if it no longer proves possible to admit all
applicants. I note in particular the following points.

       Criteria 1 and 2. Despite the LEA‟s letter to the college of 16th April
       2004, it would be preferable for the present criterion 2 to precede
       criterion 1, since admission of children with statements of special
       educational needs that name the college is mandatory under separate
     Criterion 3. The word „currently‟ is ambiguous, and it would be
     preferable for the reference to be to a brother or sister who will still be
     attending the College at the time of the proposed admission.

     Criterion 4. This might usefully be restricted, for instance, to medical
     grounds for admission to this college, as opposed to other schools (for
     example, because of the particular facilities that are available).

     Criterion 5. „The area‟ requires definition (for example, in terms of the
     catchment areas of the primary schools in question, with an
     explanation as to how detailed definitions can be obtained).

     The tie-breaker. The reference to looked after children should be
     deleted, since provision is made in criterion 1 or 2. The method of
     measuring should be specified.

     Waiting list. It will be helpful in future to explain whether or not a
     waiting list will be held, for how long it will be held, and how children‟s
     names will be added to it.

     The sixth form. The arrangements which have been supplied to me
     make no reference to admissions to the sixth form. These
     arrangements form part of the published arrangements for the college,
     and should conform with the stipulations of the Code.

     The supplementary form. The governors have supplied, separately,
     a copy of a supplementary form, which they have described to me as
     „the supplementary gold information form which we invite parents to
     complete to assist our planning‟, and which is headed „Applications for
     places in Year 7 at Sawtry Community College for September 2005‟.
     As well as basic personal details, the form collects information as to
     which LEA‟s form has been used and whether or not the college was
     named as first preference on that form. The notes at the head of the
     form say, „Parents will be informed of the offer of a place in Year 7 at
     the college, in writing, during the first week of March‟. In the context of
     future adherence to the PAN in the initial allocation of places, this note
     may prove for some parents to be misleadingly optimistic. Since the
     college does not operate a preference system of its own, it is difficult to
     understand why information about preferences is required by the
     college (as opposed to the LEA), and the result in terms of parents‟
     understanding difficult to predict. It is in any case difficult to envisage
     how the form can help the college‟s planning, as suggested in the
     notes on the form, and the governors should consider whether this form
     serves any useful purpose. If they conclude that it does, then they
     should recognise that it forms a part of the admission arrangements,
     and should be treated as such throughout the process of determining
     and publishing the admission arrangements.

21.     In accordance with section 89 (5) and (6) of the School Standards and
Framework Act 1998 and on the grounds that no major change in
circumstances has been advanced as the basis for the application, I conclude
that I am unable to determine the proposed variation to the admission
arrangements determined by the Governing Body of Sawtry Community
College. On that basis, the planned admission number for the college for
2005-2006 will remain 195.

                                Dated: 14 January 2005


                                Schools Adjudicator: Richard Lindley

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