Primary school does not have to enrol child in special class, court hears

By Ann O’Loughlin

A primary school has won a High Court challenge against a direction it must enrol a child to a special class for students with speech and language needs.

In his judgment Mr Justice Paul Coffey said he was satisfied to quash the recommendation by a three person committee, which heard an appeal brought by the mother of a child who did not get a place in the special class.

The judge also said the appeal should be now heard by a new committee.

The school, and the family involved cannot be identified for legal reasons.

The Court heard that the school had 17 applications for three places available in the special class for children with severe speech and language difficulties.

After assessing the applications three students were allocated places in the class starting last September.

One of the disappointed mothers appealed the school’s decision not to offer her child a place in the class.

That appeal went before a three person committee established by the Department of Education under Section 29 of the 1998 Education Act.

That appeal was heard by the committee who after upholding the appeal made a recommendation to the Secretary General that the child be enrolled at the school.

The school represented by by Feichin McDonagh SC said its policy is to work with relevant professionals to assesses the needs of the individual applicant children before deciding who gets a place in the class.

It says its policy is to allocate places to those children that need it most.

Following the appeal the school had been directed to enrol the student even thought there was no place for him, it argued.

Arising out of the decision the school’s board of management brought High Court judicial review proceedings against the Secretary General of the Department of Education and the three person Committee challenging the decision the school must enrol the boy.

The child’s mother was a notice party to the proceedings.

It claimed the decision was wrong, irrational and unreasonable and was made in breach of fair procedures.

It sought various orders including one quashing the committee recommendations and the Department’s direction that the boy be enrolled at the school.

The application was opposed on grounds including that the schools published admission policy was fundamentally deficient in that it did not set out the criteria for the allocation of places in the event of an over subscription for places.

Mr Justice Coffey said he was satisfied the schools published admission policy did not set out the criteria for the allocation of places in the speech and language class in the event of it being oversubscribed.

This he said was both surprising and regrettable have regard to the evidence before the court that the speech and language class has been "heavily oversubscribed for many years."

However the Judge said the Appeal Committee decision to recommend that the child be given a place in the class was "manifestly unfair" to the other unsuccessful applicants, who were no less eligible.

The recommendation was also unsatisfactory because the it was unclear if the allocation of a place was to be at the expense of one of the three successful applicants or none.

The Judge said that absent an operable and effective published admission policy to deal with over subscription the Appeal Committee should have remitted the matter to the schools board of management with a recommendation that it should adopt such a policy.

In all the circumstances the judge said he was quashing the decisions compelling the school to enrol the child and remitted the matter back to be heard by a different committee.

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