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Oxford University to face trial in £1m claim over ‘negligent’ teaching

In a landmark decision by the High Court, Oxford University will face trial in a claim for £1m compensation, brought by a former student.

Faiz Siddiqui (38) had studied modern history at Brasenose College over 16 years ago and alleges that a teaching shortage had meant that tuition was “boring” and “appallingly bad” and that he did not graduate with a first class degree as a consequence.

He claims that the ‘negligent’ teaching of a specialist subject, Indian imperial history, resulted in him only achieving a 2:1 degree, a result which he claims prevented him from pursuing a career as an international commercial lawyer, hence the  £1m compensation he now seeks in loss of earnings.

The University has acknowledged there had been difficulties with staffing during the period Mr Siddiqui was there but applied to the court to strike out the claim at an early stage in the proceedings on the grounds it had no merit.

In an unusually long 18-page judgment, Mr Justice Kerr rejected the university’s application to strike out the claim and ruled that there was in fact a case to answer and that it should go to trial as soon as possible.

In an interview with the Sunday Times, Professor Alan Smithers, an education expert at Buckingham University said: “This is a test case and in future universities will have to ensure that what they do stands up to critical inspection in the courts. In the past, universities have been quite cavalier about the quality of their teaching. If Mr Siddiqui wins, this will open the door to a flood of other students who do not think they got the degree they deserved because of issues about the teaching they received. “

Since the introduction of the £9,000 plus tuition fees, there have been a growing number of students complaining about the inadequate standards of teaching and poor pastoral support in universities.

The ombudsman for higher education, for example, received almost 2,000 complaints last year, many for disputed degree results. Nearly 25% of the complaints were upheld with universities being ordered to pay in the region of £485,000 compensation in that year alone.

Education Law solicitor, Angela Sandhal, commenting on the case said: “The case highlights the increasing confidence of students to be more challenging of the standards of education they are receiving in universities in a climate where tuition fees are the highest they have ever been.  The outcome of this case in particular, given the immense public interest, will be awaited with much anticipation and interest by lawyers, students and universities alike and may well result in more claims being brought.”

If you would like advice on an education law matter, please contact us and a member of our team we will be happy to assist you.

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University appeals and complaints on the increase

Due to the increase in tuition fees, students are often leaving university £40–50,000 in debt. As a result, they are more likely to view themselves as consumers as well as students. Overall, some four in ten students say they have not been satisfied with their course.

Nicola Dandridge, the chief executive of Universities UK, commented: “The shift in England from public funding to increased fees means that students are understandably, and rightly, demanding more from their university courses. Universities are responding to this and are also improving the amount of information to students about courses to ensure that their experience matches their expectations.” Students who pay £9,000 per year in tuition fees are more likely to complain if they feel they have not been adequately prepared for the jobs market.Last year, over 2,000 students complained to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) for Higher Education, with 200 winning payouts – although the OIA found in favour of 500 students in all. In total, £400,000 in compensation was paid, an average of £2,000 each. As well as successful complaints about inadequate support and supervision, handling of academic appeals and fitness to practise reviews,  there have also been cases where the universities’ approach to sexual harassment and assault complaints have been investigated.

Angela Sandhal, education law solicitor at Atherton Godfrey, said: “The Office of the Independent Adjudicator can provide many students with grounds to complain with a suitable remedy.  In some cases where complaints have been upheld, recommendations have been made for university tuition fees to be refunded to allow a student to resume their studies at another university.”

Do you have a problem arising from your university course? Talk to us. We are experienced education law and judicial review specialists and can give you the expert advice you need. Call 01302 320621 or email info@athertongodfrey.co.uk

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More Ofsted outcomes challenged by judicial review

Chief amongst the concerns is that complaints can trigger a full inspection. The outcome of these inspections is often limited to a “satisfactory” grade due to previous, historical concerns being taken into account. These can unfairly influence the outcome. For example, in one case, the nursery was deemed “outstanding” in the formal feedback, but was later downgraded to ‘satisfactory’ after so-called quality assurance.

Solicitors in these cases are routinely finding that the inspectors are not following Ofsted’s own published guidelines. Not only that, but the complaints process is subject to long delays – likely, it is thought, due to large backlogs of cases that have arisen due to the inspection shortcomings.

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) commented on the impact a poor inspection could have on nurseries: “We cannot stress enough how important an accurate inspection process is. The grading a nursery receives can make or break the business so it is crucial it is a fair and accurate assessment.”

Media can often pick up on the results of an inspection early on, before the organisation has a chance to appeal against the decision or even comment. In the July 1 issue of the newspaper, the Doncaster Free Press reported on a children’s centre deemed “inadequate” following inspection, which is likely to cause considerable concern amongst parents of the children attending the centre and may lead some parents to find alternative placements.

Ofsted is moving to a new, common inspection regime from September. It hopes that this will improve clarity and reduce the number of complaints that are arising. The changes will also mean shorter but more frequent inspections.

Commenting on the matter, Angela Sandhal, education law solicitor at Atherton Godfrey, said: “Schools and nurseries should not be afraid to challenge Ofsted outcomes where there are serious concerns about the procedure that has been followed.  In many cases, Ofsteads ‘internal review’ procedure can result in a satisfactory resolution; in other cases, a judicial review might be appropriate.”

Has your organisation been affected by a bad Ofsted report? Talk to us. We are experienced education law and judicial review specialists and can give you the expert advice you need. Call 01302 320621 or email business@athertongodfrey.co.uk