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COUNCIL LOSES CHALLENGE TO SCHOOLS ADMISSION POLICY

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The parents of four children caught up in a legal row over a local education authority's admissions policy were cel...
The parents of four children caught up in a legal row over a local education authority's admissions policy were celebrating today after a court ruled they should be allowed into the same school as their older brothers and sisters.

A high court judge in London rejected a challenge by South Gloucestershire Council to an independent appeals panel's decision in favour of the parents.

The council - which may yet seek to take the case to the court of appeal - had refused to admit the four-year-olds to Samuel White's Infant School at Hanham, just outside South Gloucestershire's border with Bristol, despite the willingness of the school's governors to accept the children if an extra teacher was made available.

Mr Justice Stanley Burnton said he would have allowed the council's

challenge but for the fact that it had delayed for five weeks before

launching its court case.

It was on June 14 that the appeals panel, made up of members appointed by the authority, allowed appeals by the parents, who live across the border in Bristol but are less than two miles away from Samuel White's.

The judge said it was unusual for an LEA to find itself in litigation with its own appeals panel and he would not expect such an authority to move with the same speed as a commercial organisation.

'But I have come to the conclusion that, in the context of a case like this were a decision has been made in June in relation to children who are due to start school in September, a delay of five weeks is excessive and justifies the court's refusal to grant relief,' he said.

He said he considered it was 'not acceptable' that children's futures should be subject to debate at such a late stage.

After the ruling, Andrew Pearce, 43, a project manager whose four-year-old son Gareth was one of the four pupils involved, said: 'We are just totally relieved. It is the classic cliché of justice being done.'

He said the education authority had 'totally disregarded anyone's rights.'

Another father, managing director Lee Rimell, 31, whose son Jack was caught up in the row, said: 'We feel absolutely fantastic.

'We said all along that the money spent on court costs would have been better spent funding more teachers.'

In its judicial review application, the council argued that the appeals panel exceeded its powers and unlawfully overrode the councils policy, based on requirements to keep infant class sizes below 30.

The council said its admissions policy for 2001-2 was introduced to give priority to children in its 'area of prime responsibility' (APR).

APR children must take precedence over the siblings of pupils from Bristol, it argued. Employing an extra teacher to cater for lower priority pupils would not comply with the legal requirement to use limited resources effectively.

The parents, represented as interested parties in the case, argued that the council's stance would put their children's education at risk and result in morning and afternoon chaos with mothers andfathers having to transport youngsters to separate schools miles apart.

Four year old Jack Mifflin would face a three mile round trip to school if he could not join his sister Jessica, eight.

The council's policy would also stop Gareth Pearce going to school with his sisters, Helen and Fiona.

Jack and Gareth, together with Jack Rimmell and Joe Lewis, were at the centre of the case. They all have siblings at the linked Hanham Abbotts Junior School next door to Samuel White's.

The judge heard the case as a matter of urgency before the new school term starts on September 3. He said he did not want the children to be 'treated as footballs in this litigation.'

The legal costs of the case - in which the council is liable for the panel's costs as well as its own - are likely to far exceed the£70,000 expense of employing an extra teacher for the three years that the children would be at the infants school.

The council, which sees the case as a matter of principle with far wider implications, was refused leave to appeal, but can still seek leave from the court of appeal.

STRAND NEWS SERVICE

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