The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: there was no fault in the way the Independent Appeal Panel made its decision not to admit Mrs B’s daughter to Powell’s Church of England Primary School. The Ombudsman cannot question decisions made without fault.
- Mrs B complains about the Independent Appeal Panel’s decision not to admit her daughter to Powell’s Church of England Primary School.
- In addition, Mrs B complains:
- there were other successful appeals before hers which reduced her chance of success;
- the Council (administering the appeal on behalf of the Governors) did not answer all her questions before the appeal and did not confirm in advance she would be able to present her case by telephone. Mrs B says this undermined her ability to prepare her case;
- the Panel was told about her daughter’s position on the waiting list and the fact she had been allocated a place at a school very close to Mrs B’s home. Mrs B considers this irrelevant;
- there were mistakes in the school’s case and the school sought to have a letter of support disregarded; and
- the decision letter does not give full reasons why the Panel did not uphold her appeal.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- The Ombudsman investigates complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. The Ombudsman cannot question whether a school admission appeal 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 the panel’s decision into question, we may ask for a new appeal hearing. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3))
- The Ombudsman’s role is to ensure that the Independent Appeal Panel followed the Code of Practice issued by the Department for Education, and that the hearing was fair. We do this by examining the notes taken by the Clerk during the hearing. We do not have the power to overturn the Panel’s decision, and we cannot give a child a place at the school.
- If we are satisfied with an appeal panel’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 have considered:
- information provided by Mrs B;
- all the information submitted to the Appeal Panel, the notes taken by the Clerk during the appeal, and the Panel’s decision letter following the appeal; and
- the School Admissions Appeals Code 2012.
What I found
- Powell’s Church of England Primary School (the School) is a Voluntary Aided School. The School Governors are the Admission Authority and are responsible for organising the Independent Appeal.
- Mrs B applied for a place for her daughter, D, to start in Year 3 in September. Her application was unsuccessful. Mrs B appealed the school’s decision to refuse her daughter a place.
- The School Admission Appeals Code 2012 issued by the Department for Education sets out the process the Independent Appeal Panel must follow when considering an appeal.
- The Panel must first consider whether the School has correctly considered the application. Mrs B’s application was unsuccessful because the school was full. There are 60 places in Year 3 at the school and all 60 places have been filled by children moving up from Year 2. The Panel was satisfied that the admission criteria were correctly applied.
- The Panel must then consider whether the school can accept any more pupils without disadvantaging those already at the school. This is known as the case for prejudice. In the case of Powell’s Church of England Primary School, the Panel accepted that the school was full and could not take extra pupils. Both the Panel and the parents had an opportunity to question the school’s representative. The decision that the school is full is a decision that the Panel is entitled to take, and there are no grounds for the Ombudsman to question it.
- The Panel must then consider Mrs B’s case for her daughter to be admitted to the school even though the school is full. This is known as the balancing stage where the prejudice to Mrs B’s daughter if she is not given a place is balanced against the prejudice to the school if she is. Mrs B submitted a detailed written case to the Panel. Mrs B sent a representative to the appeal and joined the hearing by telephone to present her daughter’s case. The Clerk’s notes record Mrs B’s case and her discussions with the Panel at the hearing. The Panel considered Mrs B’s arguments but decided that the prejudice to her daughter did not outweigh the prejudice to the school. This is a decision the Panel is entitled to take and there are no grounds for the Ombudsman to question it.
- In relation to Mrs B’s specific complaints:
- the successful appeals which reduced Mrs B’s chance of success were for other years at the school. There was no fault;
- Mrs B could have asked for an adjournment if she was not prepared to present her case or needed additional information from the Council. She did not;
- there is no evidence Mrs B’s daughter’s position on the waiting list and the fact she had been allocated a place at a school very close to Mrs B’s home influenced the Panel’s decision;
- the clerk’s notes show the Panel discussed the mistakes Mrs B says there are in the school’s case and the letter of support the school asked to be disregarded and reached their own view; and
- although the decision letter is brief, the evidence satisfies me the decision was made without fault.
- I find the Panel heard Mrs B’s appeal correctly and considered all the relevant information before coming to a decision. The Ombudsman cannot question decisions made without fault. I have ended my investigation.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman