Can schools prevent pupils from moving into their second year of sixth form?

Polly Kerr, Senior Associate at Tees, looks at the recent case involving St Olave’s Grammar School.

The BBC recently reported that St Olave’s Grammar School Orpington, London faces a legal challenge on A-Level places.

“It is not unusual for entry to sixth form to be governed by academic performance at GCSE level. This is not unlawful, provided any such policy does not breach equality rules. However, the ‘St Olave’s’ case demonstrates the increasing trend for schools to demand consistent high levels of attainment throughout the two year A level (or equivalent) course, at risk of losing the, often coveted, sixth form place. Whilst some may argue that it is fair and reasonable to expect high levels of attainment from students studying at this level, others believe that such a policy presents a case for unlawful exclusion for academic attainment. 

Whilst I can see both sides of the argument (and without sight of the specific policy in question at the time of commenting) I am minded to say that the application of this policy by the school feels ‘uncomfortable.’ On the face of it, the parents have a persuasive case that the school’s application of this policy amounts to an unlawful exclusion based on academic attainment. I think the parents’ argument could be even stronger in circumstances where, for example, the policy was applied to all students and failed to make any exception for students with extenuating circumstances, which might impact their first year’s results.”

But the court may decide that, subject to the terms of the policy, sufficient safeguards are in place to prevent any application from being unfair or unlawful.

I look forward to reading the court’s judgment on this case, following analysis of the school’s policy, at the hearing on 20 September.”

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