‘Unreasonable to remove places which are forecast to be needed’
In a ruling which is likely to affect any academy wishing to reduce its Pupil Admission Number (PAN), the number of pupils admitted in Year 7, the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) has decided that Priory School, Portsmouth, cannot reduce its PAN from 250 to 225.
The local authority (LA), Portsmouth City Council, objected to the reduction in the Priory School’s PAN. It forecast that the number of secondary school places in Portsmouth would be insufficient to meet future demand. Any PAN reduction would make the situation worse.
OSA agreed and wrote:
‘It is unreasonable to remove places which are forecast to be needed’ and ‘it is not right to expect children to travel long distances to other provision when there is capacity locally’.
The Bohunt Education Trust, which took over the Priory School (Specialist Sports College) in 2014, said it wished to reduce its PAN because its buildings were congested. The Trust told OSA it had complained to the LA about lack of capital spending for the Priory School. OSA reminded the Trust that ‘no local authority is funded for such works in an academy’. The capital expenditure at other schools had been to meet a basic need for more places.
The Trust also argued a lower PAN would create greater stability in the school. The Priory would no longer have ‘fluctuating admission numbers (way below PAN) from one September to the next.’ But the LA said the Priory was not significantly underscribed and any extra places would be needed to cope with a rising need for secondary places.
OSA agreed with the LA: ‘the numbers are not, in my view, in any meaningful way “way below PAN”’. OSA said the Trust’s statement, which appeared in the consultation letter about lowering the PAN, was ‘inaccurate and misleading’.
Academies are not obliged to expand to cater for forecast local need. But as state-funded schools they should avoid taking any action which would make managing school place supply more difficult. Cutting an academy’s PAN in the face of rising need is, as OSA says, unreasonable.
Note: At the time of writing, the Priory School’s admission criteria for 2019/20* still says the PAN is 225 not 250. OSA criticised the criteria because, among other things, they didn’t make it clear that by law ‘All children whose statement of special educational needs (SEN) or Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan names the school must be admitted.’ This clause is still omitted.