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St. Mary's Church of England Primary School (21 006 472)

Category : Education > COVID-19

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 20 Jun 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Miss X complained about the School’s handling of her application for a school place for her daughter. We found fault with the School’s record keeping. However, this did not cause an injustice to Miss X because there was other contemporaneous evidence which supported the School’s decision making. The School agreed to keep more detailed written records in future.

The complaint

  1. Miss X complains the School and admission appeal panel failed to make reasonable adjustments for her disability when deciding whether to offer her child a place in reception. She says the School and panel did not take account of evidence she provided about the impact of her disability on the family’s church attendance. Miss X would like the School and admission appeal panel to apologise and to understand their duties to disabled parents.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We cannot question whether an admission authority or independent school admissions appeals panel’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider if there was fault in the way the decision was reached. If we find fault, which calls into question the panel’s decision, we may ask for a new appeal hearing. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
  2. We cannot question whether an organisation’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)
  3. If we are satisfied with an admission authority’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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered the complaint made by Miss X.
  2. I considered the documents the admission authority provided in response to my enquiries.
  3. Miss X and the organisation had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered any comments received before making a final decision.

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What I found


School admissions code

  1. Statutory guidance about school admissions and appeals is in The School Admissions Code and School Admission Appeals Code, published by the Department for Education.
  2. All schools must have a set of admission arrangements containing oversubscription criteria. The school’s admission authority uses these to decide which children will receive an offer of a place if there are more applications than places available. The school’s admission authority sets the admission arrangements.
  3. Parents can appeal about a decision not to admit their child to a school. The appeal will be considered by an independent panel.

School appeals – infant class size

  1. The School Standards and Framework Act limits the size of infant classes (a class in which most of the children will reach the age of 5, 6 or 7 during the school year) to 30 pupils per teacher. The Appeals Code refers to these as Infant Class Size (ICS) appeals. Panels can only uphold these appeals in limited circumstances.
  2. Admission authorities must provide parents with information on the limited circumstances in which an infant class size appeal can be upheld in order they can make an informed decision about whether to submit an appeal.
  3. Where an appeal only involves one child, the panel examines the decision to refuse admission. The Appeals Code says in an ICS appeal the panel must consider:
    • whether the admission of an additional child/additional children would breach the infant class size limit;
    • whether the 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 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.
  4. What is ‘unreasonable’ is a high test. The panel needs to be sure that to refuse a place was “perverse” or “outrageous”. For that reason, panels rarely find an admission authority’s decision to be unreasonable.
  5. The clerk to the panel must write to the appellant, the admission authority and the local authority with its decision and the reasons for it.

The Equality Act

  1. The Equality Act 2010 protects the rights of individuals and suports equality of opportunity for all. It offers protection in employment, education, the provision of goods and services, housing, transport and the carrying out of public functions.
  2. The Equality Act makes it unlawful for organisations carrying out public functions to discriminate on any of the nine listed protected characteristics. The Public Sector Equality Duty also sets out duties for such organisations to follow to stop discrimination. The ‘protected characteristics’ referred to in the Act are:
  • age,
  • disability,
  • gender reassignment,
  • marriage and civil partnership,
  • pregnancy and maternity,
  • race,
  • religion or belief,
  • sex, and
  • sexual orientation.
  1. Direct discrimination occurs when a person or service provider treats another less favourably than they treat or would treat others because of a protected characteristic.
  2. Indirect discrimination may occur when a person or service provider takes the same approach to decision making or service provision for everyone. This may then put people sharing a protected characteristic at a particular disadvantage.
  3. The reasonable adjustment duty is set out in the Equality Act 2010 and applies to any body that carries out a public function. Its aim is that, as far as reasonably possible, people who have disabilities should have the same standard of service as non-disabled people. When the duty arises, service providers are under a positive and proactive duty to take steps to remove or prevent obstacles to accessing their service. If the adjustments are reasonable, they must make them.
  4. The Act says it is unlawful for an admission authority to discriminate against a person in the arrangements it makes for deciding who is offered admission as a pupil. There is an exception for schools with a religious character which enables them to discriminate in relation to religion and belief.
  5. The Ombudsman cannot find that a body in jurisdiction has breached the Equality Act. However, we can find a body at fault for failing to take account of their duties under the Equality Act.

What happened

  1. Miss X applied for a place for her child, Y, in reception at the School in the normal admissions round. She submitted a supplementary information form which said they were members of the local church but did not meet the criteria for regular attendance. The church’s covering letter for the form told parents to include a letter to the school if there were mitigating factors affecting church attendance.
  2. Miss X and her partner wrote a supporting letter to accompany the form. They said Miss X had an auto-immune condition. They said due to work commitments the family was only able to attend one weekday service during December 2019 but attended consistently through January and February 2020 until Miss X was advised to begin shielding in March 2020. They said due to Miss X’s partner’s working arrangements the family was only able to attend one more session before the national lockdown began.
  3. The School told the Ombudsman Miss X’s family attended church once in December 2019, once in January 2020 and once in February 2020.
  4. The School’s governors admissions committee met in February 2021 to rank applications. The School was oversubscribed so it allocated places according to the following:
        1. Looked after children and previously looked after children.
        2. Children with medical or social needs which could only be met by this School.
        3. Children with a sibling attending the School.
        4. Children who regularly attend the local church with their parents. Regular attendance was defined as a minimum of two services a month between 1 December 2019 and 17 March 2020 to take account of church closures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  5. All places went to children in these first four groups. Y was ranked in a lower group, based on distance from the school. The School provided the Ombudsman with a transcript of the governors admissions committee’s discussion. This showed the governors considered Miss X’s letter. They said work commitments were given as a reason for the family being unable to attend weekday church services regularly and no explanation was given for why they could not attend services at weekends. The governors said they were sympathetic to Miss X but could not place Y in a higher group for admission purposes. The written record of the meeting did not record the details of this discussion.
  6. Miss X appealed the decision not to admit Y. She asked the panel to consider her health condition and associated disability. She explained its impact on her and the family’s church attendance. She provided medical evidence of her diagnosis.
  7. In its submission to the panel, the School said its governors admissions committee met in February 2021 to rank applications. It said governors would have considered any evidence of special circumstances provided in support of an application, including the supplementary information form. It said Miss X had presented a case to explain the family’s church attendance but had not said why the School was the most suitable one for her child, or what difficulties would be caused if they could not attend.
  8. The appeal took place virtually with Miss X attending with a supporter. The clerk’s notes recorded that Miss X had not declared any medical or social circumstances at the time she applied for a school place for Y but had provided a letter to explain why the family did not meet the church attendance criteria.
  9. The clerk recorded the panel’s view that the admission arrangements had been applied correctly. The panel said there was no medical evidence Y needed to attend the School. It was sympathetic to Miss X’s health concerns but unanimously refused her appeal.
  10. The clerk wrote to Miss X with the outcome of the appeal with reasons for the panel’s decision.
  11. Miss X asked the clerk to explain how the panel had applied the law about disability discrimination in her case. The clerk said the panel had considered all the information she had provided and given full reasons for why the appeal was refused. The clerk directed Miss X to the Ombudsman.


  1. The School has provided evidence of how its governors admissions committee considered Miss X’s supplementary letter and came to a decision. There was no fault in how this decision was made and so I cannot question it. The School accepts the written record of the meeting did not include the detail of the discussion which took place. It says this is due to the minutes being in the public domain and the need for confidentiality. It is important that written records reflect the discussions held and decisions made. Not doing so is fault but I do not consider this caused an injustice to Miss X as there is a contemporaneous record of the governors’ decision making.
  2. While the panel did not explicitly consider the question of reasonable adjustments to the criteria for church attendance, it did consider the information Miss X provided about her disability, including her supporting evidence. It concluded the admission arrangements had been consistently applied and Y had received the correct ranking. The threshold for a successful infant class size appeal is very high; the panel concluded Miss X’s case did not meet the threshold to determine the School’s decision not to admit Y was unreasonable. This is a decision the panel was entitled to make and as I have not seen evidence of fault in how the decision was made I cannot question its merits.

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Agreed action

  1. Within one month of this decision, the School will remind its governors attendance committee of the importance of recording its consideration of any supplementary information provided by parents as part of their application, any decisions made and how these have been reached.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation. There is no evidence Miss X or Y suffered a significant injustice as a result of fault by the School.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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