A MILL Hill faith school discriminated against a family with a disabled child by denying their daughter a place because they did not have time to take part in church activities, an independent inspector has ruled.
St Paul’s Church of England School in The Ridgeway has been chastised for not offering the girl a place because her parents could not take part in church activities because they had to care for her sibling.
In a report issued today Dr Jane Martin lists a catalogue of errors by the governors at the school, who caused “avoidable uncertainty and anxiety” to the parents by unreasonably delaying and then rejecting their appeal against the decision.
She also criticises their refusal to tell the family initially why the application had been rejected and not telling them what position their daughter was on the waiting list.
She said: “This case highlights a catalogue of errors which were all avoidable, if only basic systems had been in place.
“The school did not treat the applicants fairly in that it did not take the disability of a family member into account.
“This failure was then compounded by incorrect information, unreasonable delay, poor communication and then finally a mismanaged appeals process”.
Problems started when the family were told their daughter would not get a place in the Reception class last April, because they did not take part in enough church activities.
However, when the father asked to appeal he was told he must have a face-to-face meeting with the governors, which could not be arranged until July, before he could lodge the appeal.
In the report Dr Martin says the purpose of the meeting was to “dissuade” parents from lodging the appeal, against the admissions rules of the school.
She also criticised the governors for failing to hear the appeal until September, well into the next school year, when the child already had a place at another school.
By failing to hold the panel by the end of the summer term, the school breached its duty under the appeals process, concluded Dr Martin.
When the panel did meet it “did not consider properly the complaints” put forward by the parents, the report found.
Dr Martin also criticised the dual role of the then chairman of governors Reverend Michael Bishop, who was responsible for writing references for prospective parents and judging them.
This, she said, amounted to a “conflict of interest”, although he has since been replaced as chairman of governors.
In her findings Dr Martin states: “As a result of the faults, the parents suffered months of uncertainty and were put to a great deal of time and trouble.
“They were denied a fair and timely appeal, and an assessment of whether the refusal of admission for their daughter complied with relevant legislation and statutory guidance.”
Her recommendations include an apology to the family from the school, and an overhaul of admissions arrangements there, including telling parents why they have been refused a place.