Leeds City Council (19 003 969)

Category : Education > School admissions

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 02 Jul 2019

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr X’s complaint about an unsuccessful application and appeal for a school place. This is because there is not enough evidence of fault and so we cannot question the merits of the panel’s decision.

The complaint

  1. Mr X complains his daughter has not been offered a place at the local school. Mr X has unsuccessfully appealed the decision. He says another parent’s appeal was successful.

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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 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered Mr X’s complaint to the Ombudsman and the information he provided. I also gave Mr X the opportunity to comment on a draft statement before reaching a final decision on his complaint.

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What I found

  1. Mr X moved back to the local area in 2017. He applied for his two children to attend the local school. The Council offered his eldest daughter a place – but because there were no places in Reception, the Council added his other daughter to the school’s waiting list. Mr X unsuccessfully appealed for a place in Reception in September 2017. He attended an appeal for a Year 1 place in November 2018.
  2. Independent school admission 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. 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 ‘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.
  4. The Ombudsman is not an appeal body and we cannot question decisions taken without fault. Appeal panels must consider the information they are presented with – but it is for the panel to decide what weight it will give to the evidence it hears.
  5. The clerk’s notes from the hearing show the Council’s representative explained the admissions process and why it had not offered Mr X’s daughter a place. The panel and Mr X had the opportunity to ask questions. Mr X had the opportunity to present his case and there was a further opportunity for questions.
  6. The clerk’s notes show the panel considered the points set out in paragraph 5. It decided that none of the grounds for allowing an infant class size appeal had been met. This is a decision the panel was entitled to reach. I understand Mr X disagrees with the Panel’s decision. He is also disappointed another parent successfully appealed for a place. But it is not fault for another panel to have allowed an appeal – each panel needs to reach a decision based on the information before it. There is no evidence of fault in how the panel decided Mr X’s appeal. Without evidence of fault, the Ombudsman cannot criticise the decision the panel made, or intervene to substitute an alternative view. An investigation is not therefore appropriate.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr X’s complaint. This is because there is not enough evidence of fault and so we cannot question the merits of the panel’s decision.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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