The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr B complained the Council did not carry out his son’s school admissions appeal correctly. Mr B complained the Council did not give his son a place at the same school as his sibling and this caused the family distress and inconvenience. The Council delayed sending notice of the hearing but there was no fault with the hearing itself. The Council’s fault did not cause Mr B significant injustice.
- Mr B complained the Council did not carry out his son’s school admissions appeal correctly. Mr B complained the Council did not give his son a place at the same school as his sibling and this caused the family distress and inconvenience.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word 'fault' to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
- We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
- If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I considered:
- Mr B’s complaint and the information he provided;
- documents supplied by the Council;
- relevant legislation and guidelines; and
- the Council’s policies and procedures.
What I found
Legislation and guidance
- Statutory guidance about school admissions and appeals can be found in The School Admissions Code and School Admission Appeals Code. Both are published by the Department for Education. In this case, the Council was the admissions authority.
- In 2020 emergency regulations were introduced because of COVID-19 called the School Admissions (England) (Coronavirus) (Appeals Arrangements) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 (the 2020 regulations). They temporarily amend the 2012 regulations and will be in force until 31 January 2021.
- Outlined below are key points from the School Admissions Code and School Admission Appeals Code. Where the emergency regulations introduced or mandated a temporary change to the admission appeal rules, it is identified.
- Parents/carers have the right to appeal an admission authority’s decision not to offer their child a school place.
- Appeal hearings must be held in private and conducted in the presence of all panel members and parties. Appeal panels must act according to the principles of natural justice.
- The emergency regulations require the admission authority to give appellants at least 14 calendar days’ written notice of an appeal hearing (although appellants may waive their right to this in writing).
- A clerk supports the appeal panel. Parents can submit information in support of their appeal. The clerk must send all papers required for the hearing a reasonable time before the date of the hearing. This includes information from the appellant and the admission authority.
- The admission authority must provide a presenting officer at the hearing to explain the decision not to admit the child and to answer questions from the appellant and panel.
- The 2012 guidance says appeal panels must allow appellants the opportunity to appear in person and present their case. The 2020 emergency regulations state that where face-to-face hearings cannot not take place, they should be conducted by telephone or video conference. The appeal panel can decide to hold the hearing remotely if they are satisfied that:
- the parties will be able to present their cases fully
- each participant has access to video or telephone facilities allowing them to engage in the hearing at all time
- the appeal hearing is capable of being heard fairly and transparently in this way
- whether the admission of an additional child/additional children would breach the infant class size limit;
- whether the admission arrangements (including the area’s co-ordinated admission arrangements) complied with the mandatory requirements of the School Admissions Code and Part 3 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998;
- whether the admission arrangements were correctly and impartially applied in the case(s) in question; and
- whether the decision to refuse admission was one which a reasonable admission authority would have made in the circumstances of the case.
If the Council receives more applications for a school than there are places, it will prioritise places in the following order:
- 1. Children in Care or previously in Care
- 2. Catchment Area with Sibling
- 3. Catchment Area
- 4. Siblings of children previously refused a place at their catchment school
- 5. Siblings
- 6. Other applications
- School 2 had reached the maximum number of children legally allowed in its infant classes and did not have space or resources to increase the number of infant classes from two to three.
- the admission arrangements complied with the mandatory provisions in the guidance and the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 and they had been correctly and impartially applied.
- The emergency regulations required the Council to give appellants at least 14 calendar days’ written notice of an appeal hearing. The Council gave Ms C ten calendar days, fewer than the number required which was fault. However, I do not consider this fault caused Mr B, Ms C or D significant injustice.
- The Council carried out the Infant Class Size (ICS) appeal hearing in line with the School Admissions Code, School Admission Appeals Code and School Admissions (England) (Coronavirus) (Appeals Arrangements) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 (the 2020 regulations). The panel was entitled to come to its own judgment about the evidence it heard and not to uphold D’s appeal for a place at School 2. I cannot question the merits of decisions properly taken.
- I have completed my investigation and uphold Mr B's complaint. There was fault by the Council. This fault was not considered to have caused Mr B, Ms C or E significant injustice.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman