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Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council (18 000 296)

Category : Education > School admissions

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 01 May 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr F’s complaint that the Council’s schools admissions Appeal Panel failed to provide his child with a place at his preferred school. It is unlikely the investigation would find fault which caused the child to lose out on a school place.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall call Mr F, says the Council’s schools admissions Appeal Panel did not properly consider his appeal for a place for his child, D, at school X.

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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 a 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 must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we believe:
    • it is unlikely we would find fault, or
    • the fault has not caused injustice to the person who complained. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered the information Mr F provided with his complaint. The Council provided me with the notes from the Appeal Panel hearing, the documents the Appeal Panel had and its decision letter. Mr F had the opportunity to comment on a draft version of this decision.

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What I found

  1. Mr F applied on time for a place for his child, D, to start in September 2017 in reception at school X. He applied a few days before the deadline. He says he did not realise he had to apply as D attended the attached nursery. He says the school and Council did not meet its duties to publicise its admissions scheme.
  2. Mr F stated only one school, school X, on his application form.
  3. There were more applicants than places for school X’s 30 places. The Council applied the admission criteria which sets out who should be granted places when a school is over subscribed. The distance the applicant lived from school X became the determining factor. Mr F lives 0.398 miles from school X. The last place went to a pupil who lives closer to school X at 0.281 miles.
  4. The Council gave D a place at school Y. The closest school with places. It is about a mile walking distance from Mr F’s home. The maximum distance the law says it is reasonable to expect a five year old to walk to school is two miles.
  5. Mr F appealed the decision not to award a place at school X for D, to an Independent Appeal Panel who heard the case in June 2017. Mr F was not able to attend the appeal. D’s grandfather attended on their behalf. He was accompanied by one of school D’s governors. The Appeal Panel asked the governor to leave as they are not an appropriate person to represent a prospective pupil. School representatives cannot support individual appeals.
  6. Mr F appealed on the basis that he could not do the school runs as he worked. He felt the distance to the allocated school was too far for D to walk and for D’s mother to escort D. He said there are two younger siblings and the mother was not able to push a double buggy that far. He said the mother also had to care for a grandmother. He said another family member could take D to school X but not the allocated school, Y. He gave medical evidence about the grandmother’s medical condition in support.
  7. The appeal panel refused Mr F’s appeal.
  8. Mr F got more evidence about his family’s medical conditions. In January 2018, the Council agreed he now met the medical priority criteria. His application was moved to first on the waiting list. He appealed again. The Council heard the second appeal in March 2018.
  9. Mr F said D’s medical condition had worsened. As well as vitamin and mineral shortage D also had worsening asthma. He believed the walk to school made it worse. He said the mother also has asthma and the walk to school was causing her back problems. D’s school attendance was affected as result.
  10. The Appeal Panel refused Mr F’s appeal and he complained to us.

Analysis

The appeals panel’s and Ombudsman’s role

  1. Independent appeal panels must follow the law when considering an appeal. The law says the size of an infant class must not be more than 30 pupils per teacher. There are only limited circumstances in which more than 30 children can be admitted. These are called excepted pupils.
  2. There are special rules governing appeals for Reception and Years 1 and 2. Appeals under these rules are known as “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.
  3. What is ‘reasonable’ 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 in light of the admission arrangements.
  4. We cannot question the decision if it has been properly taken. If the Appeal Panel has been properly informed, and used the correct procedure, then it is entitled to come to its own judgment about the evidence it hears.

The appeal in this complaint

  1. The Council clearly told Mr F before the appeal the place had been refused because of the Infant Class Size rules. It also clearly explained what this meant.
  2. The notes of the appeal hearings provide evidence the Appeal Panels followed the correct procedure. Mr F did not provide any medical evidence with his original application as the published admissions’ policy needs. He says he did not have time to do so. The application process opened in September 2016 and closed in mid January 2017. This gives parents ample time to get the required evidence.
  3. The admissions policy is published on the Council’s website which is all the School Admissions Code requires. Mr F says he is a software engineer. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect Mr F to have been able to find the application process on line.
  4. The Appeal Panel decided that admitting another child would breach the infant class limit for the school year 2017/18. There will be 30 pupils per teacher. A school can only admit more than 30 pupils per teacher if the extra pupils are classified as excepted pupils. D does not meet the criteria as an excepted pupil.
  5. Mr F said at the second appeal he had visited the school and seen a pupil had one to one support. He believes this means there are only 29 in the class. Any teaching assistant support does not count in calculating the infant class size.
  6. The Appeal Panel considered the admission arrangements and decided they complied with the law.
  7. The Appeal Panel was also satisfied that the admission arrangements had been properly applied in this case. When Mr F first applied he had submitted no medical evidence in support. When he applied for a second time, the class was full and D was not an excepted pupil.
  8. The Appeal Panel’s decision letter records the reasons Mr F presented at the Appeal Panel for wanting a place. It is clear the Appeal Panel considered Mr F’s reasons for wanting a place and decided the decision to refuse a place was one which a reasonable authority would have made in the circumstances and in light of the admission arrangements.
  9. It is unlikely we would find fault in the Appeal Panel’s decision. The information I have seen supports the Appeal Panel’s decision.
  10. Mr F says the decision letter is inaccurate. He says he challenged the admission arrangements. He says the letter says he did not. From the appeal panel’s notes it is clear he explained his reasons for believing the admission arrangements were wrong and that the appeal panel considered this in its decision making.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint. This is because we are unlikely to find fault which caused D to lose out on a school place at school X.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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