11th July 2003 at 01:00
Joan Sallis answers governors' questions

I AM on the admissions committee of a Church of England primary. We have applied the points system for reception class and offered places to 30 pupils for September 2003. These have all been taken up. Appeals went before an independent committee, which agreed that we had applied the criteria correctly and so had to turn them all down.

One child, though, was considered a particularly deserving case and we would have liked to admit him. As class sizes are limited to 30, our hands might seem tied. But we have only 28 pupils in Year 1. As the average across the department would still be only 30, can we allocate the two places to reception?

Our local education authority has allowed other schools to average the numbers in the classes restricted by law to 30, and so take extra children into reception. Each class has a qualified teacher and a classroom assistant and we have the money to appoint a floating teacher to the school, which we may do anyway.

Legally, "class" means a class, not an average size in the department, and despite the apparent willingness of your local authority to condone this averaging, you cannot take an extra child (or two) in reception. Even if it were legal, a concession in your circumstances might cause you more trouble than it was worth in the long run. With a school as oversubscribed as yours, parents will be anxiously watching what happens and you might find it more difficult - certainly less pleasant - to hold the line in future.

The most you can do is put the child on the waiting list; that is, if there is no scope for "promoting" one of the 30 to Year 1 on some wholly defensible ground such as their having been in a reception class some time somewhere else or being considerably older. This would almost certainly cause a lot of fuss too.

The option of having a floating teacher for the whole school makes no legal difference, although it is clearly a great asset. Besides, even if you were allowed to have an over-large class it would have to move through the school, and would reduce flexibility to take newcomers to the area at all stages.

Interestingly, on the same day I received this question I had a query from another part of the UK where an independent appeal tribunal had allowed an appeal that would have put the class size above the legal maximum, even though the Government gave a very strong warning to appeal committees not to make decisions that would take the infant classes concerned over the limit.

The LEA here was not condoning any concessions, and the governors of the school were worried about having to solve their problem by a radical reorganisation of how the pupils in the two youngest classes were grouped and taught, which parents might well dislike. At least your appeals committee did not make it impossible for you to refuse this extra child.

Joan Sallis does her best to answer all letters, but please keep requests for private replies to a minimum, as we aim to provide helpful information for all readers and always protect the identity of schools and individuals.

Questions should be sent to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX; fax 020 7782 32023205;

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