The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Ombudsman cannot investigate this complaint that the Council did not properly address a parent’s concerns about the running of a local primary school and that its responses to her complaints about this matter were inadequate. This is because the law prevents us from considering complaints about the internal management of schools, or about authorities’ responses to complaints about internal school management issues.
- The complainant, who I shall call ‘Mrs X’, complained that the Council did not properly pursue her concerns about various aspects of the management of the primary school (‘the School’) her children attended, and that it unreasonably favoured the School in its responses to her. Mrs X was also unhappy with the way the Council dealt with her complaints, in particular because of delays in the process and what she felt was the inappropriate tone of its letters.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- The Local Government Act 1974 sets out our powers but also imposes restrictions on what we can investigate. In particular, we cannot investigate complaints about what happens in schools. (Local Government Act 1974, Schedule 5, paragraph 5(b))
- In addition, in court proceedings judges have ruled that we cannot investigate a complaint about any action by a local authority concerning conduct within a school. (R (oao M) v Commissioner for Local Administration  EWHC 2847) & (R (oao ER) v CLAE  EWCA Civ 1407)
How I considered this complaint
- I considered the information Mrs X provided with her complaint, and her comments in response to a draft of this decision.
What I found
- Mrs X’s children were pupils at the School. But in 2017 Mrs X raised concerns with the School about a safeguarding issue relating to the supervision of children outside the classroom.
- Subsequently Mrs X raised other concerns about the running of the School. These included issues about high staff turnover, lack of communication or consultation with parents, and a potential conflict of interest on the governing body.
- Mrs X pursued her complaints about these matters through the School’s and then the Council’s complaints procedures. But the Council concluded that it had taken appropriate action in response to Mrs X’s concerns and had satisfactorily addressed the issues she raised. In addition the Council did not accept Mrs X’s complaint about the way it had responded to her.
- Mrs X was dissatisfied with the Council’s response to her concerns about the School. In particular she felt it was evading its responsibility to intervene and was unreasonably taking the School’s side. Mrs X was also unhappy with the tone of the Council’s complaint responses which she found dismissive and intimidatory.
- Mrs X brought this complaint to the Ombudsman. But I have concluded that we have no jurisdiction to pursue her case.
- In particular, the Local Government Act 1974 specifically precludes us from investigating “any action concerning conduct, internal organisation, management or discipline in any school maintained by the authority.” I consider that all of Mrs X’s concerns about safeguarding, the governing body, staff retention and the School’s communications with parents, relate to the internal management of the school. As a result we cannot pursue any of these matters.
- In addition, I consider the court judgements I refer to paragraph 3 mean that we have no jurisdiction to investigate Mrs X’s complaint about the way the Council responded to her complaint about the internal school management issues in her case.
- The Ombudsman cannot investigate Mrs X’s complaint the Council’s inadequate response to concerns she had raised about the running of a school, and about the way it responded to her complaints regarding these matters. This is because the law prevents us from pursuing complaints about the internal management of schools and the Council’s response to complaints about school management issues.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman