This case relates to a parents’ right to have a particular school named in a statement of special educational needs (“SEN”) (what would now be an Education, Health and Care plan), and also to a school’s duty to admit a child once it is named in that child’s statement/EHC plan.

The applicant, T, was a child with a statement. His mother expressed a preference for the A and S School, a maintained school in a neighbouring local authority. The A and S School “applied its normal admissions criteria and decided that it could not offer one of its places to the applicant”. T’s local authority determined that there were not sufficient reasons to overrule to the parent’s preference, and so named the school in T’s statement.

The school complained to both their own and the child’s local authorities (“LA”), and when the parent attempted to bring the child to school, refused to admit him. The parent subsequently brought a judicial review against the school’s refusal to admit.

The school argued that only the LA in which they were based had the power to order them to admit pupils.

The High Court ruled:

If a maintained or grant-maintained school is specified in a statement of special educational needs, that school is obliged to admit the pupil who is the subject of that statement. This obligation arises even if the local education authority responsible for the pupil is different from the local education authority responsible for the school.

This case concerned a maintained school, but under the Children and Families Act, this would apply equally to any of the types of schools listed in s. 38(3).

The decision also discussed a school’s ability to refer a dispute with a local authority to the Secretary of State – for example where they disagree with being named in an EHC plan. This right, set out in s. 495 Education Act 1996, remains in force. However, even when a school has made such a complaint, the duty to admit (now set out in s. 43 Children and Families Act 2014) still applies unless and until the EHC plan is amended.

The full case report is available here. (While the case was decided under the Education Act 1996, the principles remain in force as the same rights are now set out in sections 38,39 and 43 of the Children and Families Act 2014.)

Implications of the decision

When a parent requests a school the local authority has a conditional duty to name (those now set out in s. 38(3) CAFA 2014), the ultimate decision to name the school rests with the home local authority. Even if the school and the local authority in which the school is located object to this, they can be overruled. A local authority can only refuse to name a school of this kind if one of the reasons set out in s. 39(4) CAFA 2014 applies.