County council urged to act over school appeal delays

County Hall, Northallerton.

North Yorkshire County Council has been urged to act over a delay in school admission appeals caused by the coronavirus crisis.

The appeals process – which usually takes place in May – has been delayed because face-to-face hearings had to be called off, creating a backlog of families unhappy with their school admissions.

The council says the “vast majority, if not all” appeals for primary and secondary school entry should be heard before the start of the academic year in September.

But education lawyers Simpson Millar have accused the council of failing to do all that was “reasonably practicable” to speed up the process.

In a letter on behalf of a family who received an appeal hearing date of mid-September, the law firm urged the council to hold more appeals remotely – by telephone or video – which is now allowed.

Lawyer Dan Rosenberg said the delays could leave dozens of families and schools in a “extremely worrying” position ahead of the new term.

He said: “While we know that there has been increased pressure on local authorities during the covid crisis, there is no excusing a five month delay in processing these appeals, all of which can be done remotely, in total isolation, and within the strictest of lockdown rules and regulations.

“Children are already dealing with a huge amount, with reception classes starting a whole new chapter of their lives under quite difficult circumstance, and secondary school children making the transition without the same level of support other years have received.”

Stuart Carlton, the council’s corporate director of children and young people’s services, said: “We apologise for the delay. Like most areas of public life, the pandemic has impacted heavily on the services we run, but we are happy to inform people that the delayed appeal hearings should now be heard before the start of the academic year.”

It comes as the government has published its safety plans for the return to school in September.

The measures are being built on the principle of keeping classes or whole year groups apart in separate “bubbles”.

Schools will have testing kits to give to parents if children develop coronavirus symptoms in school – and mobile testing units may be sent to schools which have an outbreak.