Fair Access Protocol 

Our Fair Access Protocol (agreement) acts as a safety net for particular groups of children who are having problems getting a school place outside the standard September entry point. 

The protocol has two aims:

  • to make sure children are not left without a school place for too long
  • to make sure all schools take their fair share of children who may need extra support because of their vulnerabilities or challenging behaviour

Under the Fair Access Protocol, we can refer applications to a Fair Access Panel in order get an offer of a suitable school place. We guarantee an offer of a place for all Cheshire East residents. We may use the protocol for non-Cheshire East residents but do not guarantee a place.

Fair Access can open up more opportunities for vulnerable children because we can get places even at schools that would otherwise be full.

The protocol is a partnership between Cheshire East Council and publicly-funded schools in Cheshire East.

Children covered by Fair Access and how referrals work

The Cheshire East Fair Access Protocol covers the following groups of children:

  • children from the criminal justice system or pupil referral units who need to be re-integrated into mainstream education
  • children who have been out of education for 2 months or more
  • children of Gypsies, Roma, Travellers, refugees and asylum seekers
  • children who are homeless
  • children whose parents are neglecting their responsibility to find the child a school place
  • children who are carers
  • children with special educational needs, a disability or a medical condition who do not have an Education, Health and Care Plan but receive additional support (coded as K on the school SEN register)
  • children whose parents have taken them out of mainstream school at the point of managed move or permanent exclusion
  • children who have been educated outside of mainstream school for at least 6 weeks in the last 12 months
  • statutory school age reception children and year 6 children changing schools
  • year 10 children and year 11 children moving schools 
  • children with challenging behaviour
  • children who have had more than two changes of school apart from the move from primary to secondary
  • children who speak little or no English

The protocol does not cover children with an Education, Health and Care Plan or cared for or previously cared for children. This is because these children have first priority through the standard process. They will always be offered a place.

Parental consent

In most cases, parents can choose whether or not to use the Fair Access process when we offer it. But if the child has challenging behaviour, parents do not have a choice about using Fair Access if the child's application is referred for it. 

Where a child without challenging behaviour has applied through the normal process but been unable to get a school place because the preferred schools are full, our school admissions team will try to find them a place at the next nearest school. Children covered by the Fair Access Protocol may then be referred to a Fair Access panel if we cannot otherwise find them a suitable place, and if the parents agree. 

In the case of children with challenging behaviour, schools can refer an application to Fair Access if they feel unable to take the child because of existing challenges within the relevant year group. The school will tell the parents that the application has been referred. In this situation, parents do not have the right to refuse Fair Access. But they can refuse the school place the Fair Access panel offers and keep trying to find a place themselves.

Where a child has been permanently excluded within the 2 school years before the application, our admissions team will see this on the application form and look into the child's situation. We will normally offer a place in our pupil referral unit but may refer the child for Fair Access support if a mainstream school is appropriate. 

Where a child has been permanently excluded from 2 schools in the 2 school years before the application, we will normally offer them a place in our pupil referral unit rather than looking for a mainstream school through Fair Access. 

What counts as challenging behaviour

For the purpose of the Fair Access Protocol, we count challenging behaviour as one or more of the following:

  • 3 separate incidents in the last year leading to internal (where a pupil is taken out of the normal classroom but stays in school) or external exclusions, each of which is at least one full day (2 sessions)
  • 1 incident in the last year leading to at least 5 days internal or external exclusion
  • behaviour resulting in a permanent exclusion within the 2 school years before the application for a school place 
  • for secondary pupils only - behaviour in the community in the 12 months before the application which, had it taken place within the school, would have resulted in criteria 1 or 2 being met and for which there is evidence from other agencies (police incident numbers are not needed).

Schools must provide documentary evidence of the behaviour.  

We can use Fair Access to help children moving schools in the summer term of year 10 or in year 11 to find a place quickly so they do not miss too much time at school. If the parents agree, schools can refer pupils to Fair Access when they get an application from a child in this situation but cannot offer a place. Where exams are approaching and a child is without a school place we may not wait for a panel meeting but will liaise with schools to make arrangements as quickly as possible.

As far as possible, we will always look to find the best match for the pupil's chosen subject options and the exam boards followed at the previous school.

You can contact us direct if your child is eligible for Fair Access support and you have not been able to get a school place for an application outside the normal school entry points.

Our Fair Access process

If your child has been referred to Fair Access, one of our team will contact you. They will check the child is eligible (if this is not already clear), discuss the process with you, and ask more about the child so we can consider which schools would be suitable.

managed move (where the child goes to the new school for a trial period while staying on roll at the original school) may be suggested as an alternative to taking the case to a Fair Access Panel.

If we decide that Fair Access is the best approach and you agree (or the child has challenging behaviour, in which case we do not need parental consent), we will make arrangements for the case to go to a panel meeting.

As well as talking to parents/carers, we also talk to previous and current schools about the child. We then give all the information we have about the child to the panel.

If you wish, you can continue to try to find a new place yourself through the normal process while you wait for the Fair Access Panel to meet. 

The child's local area Fair Access Panel will decide on the best school for the child. 

The panel's goal is to find a place where the child has the best chance of being successful. They consider all the relevant issues, including the make-up and challenges of the existing year group at suitable schools and the child's particular circumstances. 

They will take parent preferences into account but cannot guarantee a place at a preferred school. 

Panels can say schools should take a child even if this means the school goes over its stated pupil admission number (PAN). They can also recommend that the child should stay in their current school. The Panel may recommend a managed move as the best option for the child.

Where a school refuses to take a child through Fair Access, we can direct them to take the child if they are a school funded by us as the local authority. Where the school is an academy and does not want to take the child, we can ask the Secretary of State for Education to intervene. 

Panels are made up of head teachers and senior leaders from schools in each area plus people from our education team. 

For children needing a new mainstream school after time at our pupil referral unit, a member of staff from the unit will also take part.

Schools that are not local to the child may also be included where the school may be the most appropriate (the child may then be eligible for free transport).

Parents cannot go to Fair Access Panel meetings (though they can provide information to us for the panel).  

Secondary Fair Access Panels

  • Knutsford, Poynton and Wilmslow (KPW) - Poynton High School, Knutsford Academy, Knutsford Studio School, Wilmslow High School 
  • Macclesfield -  The Macclesfield Academy, All Hallows Catholic College, Tytherington High School, Fallibroome Academy, The Fermain Academy, 
  • Crewe and Nantwich - Ruskin High School, Sir William Stanier School, The Oaks Academy, St Thomas More Catholic High School, Brine Leas School, Malbank School and Sixth Form College, Shavington High School, Crewe Engineering & Design UTC 
  • Congleton Rural - Eaton Bank Academy, Congleton High School, Alsager School, Holmes Chapel Comprehensive School, Middlewich High School, Sandbach School, Sandbach High School and Sixth Form College 

Secondary panels meet every 4 - 6 weeks.

Primary Fair Access Panels

  • Alsager- Alsager Highfields, Cranberry Academy, Excalibur, Pikemere, Rode Heath, St Gabriel's
  • Crewe and Shavington- Brierley, Edleston, Gainsborough, Hungerford, Leighton, Mablins Lane, Monks Coppenhall, Pebble Brook, Shavington Beechwood, St Mary's Catholic, St Michael's, The Berkeley, Underwood West, Vine Tree, Weston Village, Wistaston Academy, Wistaston Church Lane,  Wybunbury Delves
  • Congleton- Astbury, Blackfirs, Bosley, Buglawton, Daven, Havannah, Marfields, Marton, Mosseley, Scholar Green, Smallwood, St Mary's, The Quinta, Woodcocks' Well
  • Holmes Chapel - Brereton, Chelford, Goostrey, Hermitage, Holmes Chapel, Peover Superior
  • Knutsford - Bexton, Egerton, High Legh, Little Bollington, Manor Park, Mobberley, St Vincents 
  • Macclesfield and Bollington - Ash Grove, Bollinbrook, Bollington Cross, Bollington St John, Broken Cross, Christ the King, Dean Valley, Gawsworth, Hollinhey, Hurdsfield, Ivy Bank, Kettleshulme, Marlborough, Mottram St Andrews, Parkroyal, Pott Shrigley, Prestbury, Puss Bank, Rainow, St Alban’s, St Gregory's, St John the Evangelist, Upton Priory, Whirley, Wincle
  • Middlewich- Cledford, Middlewich, St Mary’s, Warmingham
  • Nantwich - Acton, Audlem, Bickerton, Bridgemere, Bunbury Aldersey, Calveley, Highfields, Millfields, Nantwich Primary Academy, Pear Tree, Sound And District, St Anne's Catholic, St Oswald's, Stapeley Broad Lane, Weaver, Willaston, Wrenbury
  • Poynton - Adlington, Disley, Lockstock Hall, Lower Park, St Paul's Catholic, Vernon, Worth
  • Sandbach- Elworth CofE, Elworth Hall, Haslington, Offley, Sandbach Academy, St Johns CofE, The Dingle, Wheelock
  • Wilmslow - Alderley Edge, Ashdene, Gorsey Bank, Lacey Green, Lindow, Nether Alderley, St Anne’s Fulshaw, St Benedict's, Styal, The Wilmslow Academy, Wilmslow Grange

Each panel meeting will include the 10 nearest schools to the child's home unless the parents ask for other schools outside the area.

Primary school panel meetings are held as soon as possible after a referral.

We will email you or write to you within 2 working days to tell you the panel's decision. If the panel is offering a place at a new school we will tell you who to contact at the school to arrange admission. 

We expect the child to start at the school within 10 school days of the date of the offer for primary schools and within 15 days for secondary schools. 

If you do not contact the school within his time, the school may withdraw the offer of the place and refer the child to our children missing education team. 

The panel's decision is final - there is no appeal process.

But you still have the right to make an admissions appeal to challenge your preferred school(s) refusal to offer a place. You must make your appeal within 20 days of getting our email or letter telling you the panel's decision. You can only apply a second time to the same school if your circumstances have changed or if the school's circumstances have changed. 

School transport

A child offered a place through Fair Access may be eligible for free school transport if the panel chooses a secondary school more than 3 miles from the child's home or a primary school more than 2 miles from the child's home. We will advise.

Strategic role of Fair Access Panels

As well as finding school places for children who need them, Fair Access Panels also play a strategic role in developing and supporting: 

  • collaboration between schools to meet the needs of the most vulnerable pupils in the area
  • inclusive practices
  • a reduction in and support for exclusions
  • behaviour improvements
  • the reintegration of excluded pupils back into mainstream school 

Full Fair Access Protocol details

Primary fair access protocol (PDF, 405KB) 

Secondary fair access protocol (PDF, 439KB) 

National Fair Access policy

Our Fair Access Protocol follows national Fair Access principles.

More information