Privacy settings

LGO logogram

Review your privacy settings

Required cookies

These cookies enable the website to function properly. You can only disable these by changing your browser preferences, but this will affect how the website performs.

View required cookies

Analytical cookies

Google Analytics cookies help us improve the performance of the website by understanding how visitors use the site.
We recommend you set these 'ON'.

View analytical cookies

In using Google Analytics, we do not collect or store personal information that could identify you (for example your name or address). We do not allow Google to use or share our analytics data. Google has developed a tool to help you opt out of Google Analytics cookies.

Suffolk County Council (17 014 859)

Category : Education > School admissions

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 01 May 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Miss X complains the Independent Appeal Panel did not properly consider her appeal for her daughter, Y, to attend Year 2 in School A. She is now struggling to take her children to different schools. The Ombudsman finds no evidence of fault in how the Independent Appeal Panel considered Miss X’s appeal.

The complaint

  1. Miss X complains the Independent Appeal Panel (the “Panel”) did not properly consider her appeal for her daughter, Y, to attend Year 2 in School A. She says the Council told the Panel there were no places available, when in fact there was a space but the Council gave it to another child. She expected the Panel to investigate this further and contact her, but it did not. She says she is struggling to take her children to different schools.

Back to top

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 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)
  2. We cannot question whether an independent admissions appeals panel’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 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)

Back to top

How I considered this complaint

  1. I spoke to Miss X and I reviewed the documents provided by Miss X and the Council. Miss X and the Council had the opportunity to comment on an earlier version of this statement.

Back to top

What I found

  1. The Council is the admissions authority for School A. It publishes a policy document for in-year admissions on its website. This says if a place becomes available in a year group that has been full it will consider:
    • all new applications;
    • any that have been refused in the last 15 school days and;
    • any awaiting an appeal hearing.
  2. If there are more applications than places available it will give the place to the applicant with the highest priority, in line with its oversubscription criteria. This sets “looked after children” as the highest priority, then children with siblings in the school, then those nearest to the school.

Law; Admissions

  1. The Council must comply with the law, the School Admissions Code and School Admissions Appeal Code when admitting children to its schools and organising appeals.
  2. The law says an infant class (Reception, Years 1 and 2) must not have more than 30 pupils per teacher.
  3. There are only limited circumstances in which a school can admit more than 30 children. These children are called “excepted pupils” and do not count towards the limit of 30 pupils per teacher. Relevant to this case, a child admitted outside the normal admissions round could be an “excepted pupil” if the child is admitted after an independent appeal panel upholds an appeal.
  4. There are special rules governing appeals for Reception and Years 1 and 2. Appeals under these rules are called “infant class size appeals”. The rules say the panel must consider whether:
    • admitting another child would breach the class size limit;
    • the admission arrangements comply with the law;
    • the admission arrangements were properly applied to the case;
    • the decision to refuse a place was one which a reasonable authority would have made in the circumstances.
  5. 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.
  6. The Ombudsman does not question the merits of decisions properly taken. The panel can come to its own judgment about the evidence it hears.

What happened

  1. Miss X moved house and wanted her three children to attend the nearby school, School A.
  2. On 6 September 2017 School A told the Council it now had one place available in year 2.
  3. On 9 September 2017 Miss X made an in year application for her daughter to attend School A in year 2.
  4. On 13 September 2017 the Council looked at new applications, any refused in the last 15 school days and any applications awaiting appeal. The Council says it had four applications and only one space available. It ranked the four applications in line with its oversubscription criteria and gave the place to the applicant with the highest priority. This applicant ranked highest as they had a sibling.
  5. The Council says it received Miss X’s application later the same day. There was no space available by this point. The Council notes that Miss X’s application would not have ranked highest, in any event.
  6. By letter of 3 October 2017 the Council told Miss X it had refused her application. It said if it admitted her child the class would have more than 30 children.
  7. On 2 November 2017 Miss X appealed the Council’s decision.
  8. The appeal hearing took place on 12 December 2017. The Council has provided records of the appeal hearing. These show the Council presented its case first. It said admitting another child would breach the infant class size limit of 30. Miss X then presented her arguments. She said there was a space available when she applied. The hearing adjourned so the presenting officer could check this. The officer then clarified that a space was available on 6 September and the Council offered this to a child on 13 September. Miss X’s child was not on the list when the Council looked at applications and, the place was offered to a child with a sibling. Miss X said the Council told her a space was available on 13 September. The Panel expressed concerned about this and the presenting officer agreed to listen to the calls.
  9. The Council told Miss X the outcome of the appeal by letter of 12 December 2017. This explains:
    • The Panel was satisfied the class size limit of 30 had been reached.
    • The Panel was satisfied the school admission arrangements complied with the law and were properly applied.
    • The Panel considered Miss X’s circumstances and whether the Council’s refusal was unreasonable. It decided it was not unreasonable.
    • The Panel did not uphold the appeal.
  10. The letter does not show the Panel’s consideration of the calls exchanged between Miss X and the Council.
  11. In response to my enquiries, the Council says Miss X contacted it on 13, 18, 20, 25, 26 and 28 September 2017 and 2 October 2017. It provided recordings of these calls. Having listened to the recordings I note Miss X called to see if the Council had received her application and then called to find out the outcome. The Council confirmed it had received her application on 13 September 2017 and later told Miss X it was processing her application. There is no record to show the Council told Miss X there was a space available in year 2 of School A, during any of the calls.
  12. The Council has apologised for not contacting Miss X after it listened to the call recordings.

My findings

  1. There was one space available in year 2 at School A. The Council allocated this space before looking at Miss X’s application. The Council then considered Miss X’s application and refused it, because the class was full. This information was provided to the Panel and I am satisfied this information was correct.
  2. The Panel considered Miss X’s appeal in accordance with the law on infant class size appeals. It decided to refuse the appeal for admission to School A. I appreciate that Miss X is unhappy with the Panel’s decision. However, unless there is some fault in the way the Panel reached its decision I cannot question whether the decision was right or wrong.
  3. The documents do not show the Panel’s consideration of the calls between Miss X and the Council. And, the decision outcome letter does not explain to Miss X what the Panel found in relation to those calls. This was fault. However, I find this did not cause significant injustice. This is because I have listened to the call recordings and they do not contain any information that would have affected the Panel’s decision.
  4. I find no fault in the decision making process that would have affected the Panel’s decision. I therefore find no fault causing injustice.

Back to top

Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation. This is because I find no fault causing injustice in how the Panel considered Miss X’s appeal.

Back to top

Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

Print this page