Hertfordshire County Council (15 020 103)

Category : Education > Other

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 31 Mar 2016

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman cannot investigate this complaint about the actions of a School and the Council following an allegation made by the complainant’s son. This is because complaints about the management of schools are not in the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I refer to here as Ms T, says that:
    • Her son alleges that a teaching assistant at his school sexually assaulted and bullied him;
    • The School has not dealt with the matter properly;
    • The Council has not dealt properly with her complaints about how the School handled the allegations; and
    • The Council has not investigated properly the safeguarding aspects of the complaint.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. The Local Government Act 1974 sets out the Ombudsman’s powers but also imposes restrictions on what she can investigate.
  2. The Ombudsman cannot investigate complaints about what happens in schools. (Local Government Act 1974, Schedule 5, paragraph 5(b))
  3. In court proceedings, a judge has ruled that the Ombudsman cannot investigate a complaint about any action by a local authority concerning conduct within a school. (R (oao M) v Commissioner for Local Administration [2006] EQHC 2847 (Admin))
  4. The Ombudsman cannot investigate late complaints unless she decides there are good reasons. Late complaints are when someone takes more than 12 months to complain to the Ombudsman about something a council has done. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered carefully the information provided by Ms T’s representative, and guidance on the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction.

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What I found

  1. In 2011 Ms T’s son, who has educational and medical needs, alleged that a teaching assistant who was supposed to support him, was bullying him, and had touched him inappropriately in a school toilet.
  2. Ms T has complained about the matter to the School Governing Body, to the police, and to the Council over a substantial period of time. However, she remains dissatisfied about the responses she has received, and the actions of the bodies complained to.
  3. Ms T has now brought her complaint to her Member of Parliament, who has forwarded it to the Ombudsman.
  4. The Ombudsman is, however, unable to consider the complaint. This is because she is prevented in law from considering complaints about the management of schools.
  5. In addition, case law has established that the Ombudsman may not consider the actions of councils in relation to the management of schools.
  6. The correct path for such complaints is for them to be made to the Governing Body of the School. Once the School’s complaints process has been completed, complainants have the right to take the matter to the Secretary of State for Education. If the complainant then remains dissatisfied, there is no further recourse to an additional complaints process.
  7. The Ombudsman does have a responsibility to ensure that safeguarding issues are raised with the Council. Although the complaint is made late, being well over the statutory 12 months within which complaints have to be made to the Ombudsman, I considered whether it would be appropriate to exercise the Ombudsman’s discretion, and look at the safeguarding aspect.
  8. However, as this aspect of the complaint has been considered by all relevant agencies including the Police, the Local Authority Designated Officer, and the General Teaching Council, all of which decided there was no case to answer, I do not consider it warrants exercise of the Ombudsman’s discretion and further oversight.

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Final decision

  1. I cannot investigate this complaint as it concerns the management of allegations about incidents in a school and is therefore out of jurisdiction.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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