The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mrs V says a school admission appeals panel acted with fault in failing to give her child a place at the school. There is no evidence of fault.
- The complainant, whom I shall call Mrs V, wanted a place at school for her child W. She said the appeal panel acted with fault in failing to offer W a place.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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 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)
- 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)
How I considered this complaint
- I refer to the relevant statutory guidance, which is the School Admission Appeals Code, 2012. The Code details the duties of an admission appeals panel under the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. The Ombudsman would expect statutory guidance to be followed unless there were very good reasons for not doing so. I gave Ms B and the Council the opportunity to comment on my draft decision and took comments into account before issuing my decision.
What I found
- Mrs V was unsuccessful in getting a place for W at her first preference school. Mrs V lived too far away and the school was oversubscribed. Mrs V got a place at her second choice school, which was 9.31 miles from her home address. Because she was not successful getting a place at the first preference school, she appealed to an independent admission appeals panel.
- Regulations made under Section 1 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 limit the size of an infant class (a class where most of the children will reach the age of 5, 6 or 7 during the school year) to 30 pupils per school teacher. Although it would be the case that allowing additional children into the school would breach this limit, the Council heard all cases as ‘normal’ prejudice rather than ‘infant class size’ prejudice. Mrs V says the head was keen to expand the school and the school had also been under pressure, in previous years, to allow more children in.
- At Stage 1 of the hearing, the panel decided that further children coming into the school would breach the infant class size limit once classes were joined. The school’s admission arrangements complied with the law and the admission number had been reached. The class was full. There was no allegation the entry requirements were not impartially applied to W. The last admitted child lived 1.118 miles away and W lived 3.129 miles away.
- Mrs V explained why she wanted W to have a place at the school. She said W had been a reluctant speaker and suffered from social anxiety. She had benefitted from being in a small school and had made a great deal of progress. Younger family members were due to start at the school and childcare and family support also relied on W having a place there. The admission appeals code says the panel has to consider arguments about ‘what the school can offer the child that the allocated or other schools cannot’. Ms B’s argument was about the school being small, as well as supportive, but this could equally apply to other schools
- The panel listened to what Mrs V said but did not think the prejudice to W for not attending the school was greater than the prejudice to the school having to take another child. The Council wrote a letter to say the appeal was unsuccessful. It was poor practice to mention another child’s name in the text of the letter, which created Mrs V’s concern that the hearings had been confused. However, that W was turned down for a place is clear and, having read the clerk’s notes, I am satisfied the panel had sufficient detail of her case.
- Mrs V thought the panel may have confused her child with the child in the hearing that came afterwards. I have considered the papers from the other hearing and I can see no evidence of fault.
- One child was successful on appeal. Mrs V said one of the family’s relatives gave advice on the argument before they attended and had told them what to say to get a positive outcome. It is open to anyone to get advice prior to a hearing (paid or otherwise). I have seen the documentation from that appeal, that I cannot share with Mrs V, and there is no evidence of fault in how the case was considered. The outcome would not have affected Mrs V’s chances of getting a place at the school because each case is considered on its own merits.
- There is no evidence of fault in the way the appeal panel considered Mrs V’s case for W to have a place at the school.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman