School place panel member struck off after 'totally uncalled for' comments

A member of a panel determining appeals over secondary school places has been struck off after allegedly telling the parent of a slightly autistic child he should “grow up”.

Redcar and Cleveland Council confirmed the individual had been removed due to “issues being raised about their conduct” and would no longer take part in the process.

A number of subsequent appeal hearings due to be heard were cancelled, being postponed until next month when they will be started afresh. It is understood that 22 appeals in total have been affected.

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A relative of one of those present at the meeting where the remarks were allegedly made said they had caused “undue upset” and were “totally uncalled for”.

The council confirmed the person had been removed from the panel

Parents were notified of their child’s allocated school in March ahead of this September’s intake and an independent appeals procedure for those who were not given their preferred choice of school is now underway.

Local councils advertise for panel representatives, who typically include lay members and individuals with relevant education experience, who then receive training before they can sit on an appeal.

Checks are also undertaken to ensure that they are independent, both from any school involved and the council itself.

The relative said there had been a question asked by a parent regarding the safety of children travelling alone early in the morning on public transport with the panel member stating that he could not see a problem as he used to go to school on a bus when he was seven years old.

The parent indicated that her son was slightly autistic and dared not even go into a shop on his own, to which the panel member replied: “Tell him to grow up”.

The relative said: “These comments caused undue upset to the lady and were totally uncalled for. Nobody on the panel, including the legal advisor, tried at the time to censor [the panel member].

“As you can imagine there was a lot of hub-hub among the parents attending the appeal.”

He said his own daughter, who was one of the parents present, had “no faith at all in the appeal process” and described it as a “debacle”.

“These people have our children’s future and physical and mental wellbeing in their hands – how do we know other panellists are not going to have the same inbuilt mindset?” he added.

A spokesman for Redcar and Cleveland Council said the affected appeals would be started afresh in the week commencing June 6, which was the earliest date that could be achieved given the availability of other panel members.

He said: “We can confirm that due to issues raised about the conduct of a panel member, a hearing dealing with a number of school admission appeals was terminated. The panel member in question will not be part of these arrangements.”

The spokesman added: “It is unfortunate that these issues have led to inconvenience and frustration for parents and schools, but it is vital that any procedural issues that arise during matters of such importance to families are addressed appropriately in order to maintain the fairness and integrity of the decision making process.”

It has previously been reported that there are concerns over insufficient secondary school places in Redcar and Cleveland, which has seen at least one school expanding to take on extra pupils.

The issue was raised last year at a full meeting of the council by Normanby ward member Councillor Chris Gallacher, now cabinet member for economic development.

He said it was a “major concern” and a “pressing problem”, and also referenced a number of new housing developments that were in the offing.

In response, the council’s cabinet member for children, Alison Barnes described 2022 as a “bulge” year with projected figures previously showing there was a shortfall of 71 secondary school places for primary school pupils due to move up in September.