Kent County Council (19 004 268)

Category : Education > School admissions

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 11 Oct 2019

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mrs X complains the admissions appeals panel did not properly consider her son’s appeal for a grammar school place. From the evidence seen, the Ombudsman does not find fault in how the admissions appeals panel considered the appeal.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I refer to as Mrs X, complains the admissions appeals panel did not properly consider her son’s appeal for a grammar school place. Mrs X says:
    • The school was not oversubscribed.
    • Her son would be able to cope with the pace and level of work at a grammar school based on his previous test scores.
    • The panel did not consider her son had an older sibling at the school.

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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 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 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)
  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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered:
    • The complaint made by Mrs X and the Council’s response.
    • The Clerk’s notes of the appeal hearing, and the evidence submitted by Mrs X and the school.
    • I discussed the complaint over the telephone with Mrs X.
    • I sent a draft of this decision to Mrs X and the Council and considered Mrs X’s comments.

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What I found

  1. School admissions panels must follow the law when considering an appeal. There is a two stage process. At the first stage the panel considers whether the admission arrangements comply with the law and were properly applied to the case in question.
  2. The panel then considers whether admitting another child would prejudice the education of others at the school.
  3. The School Admissions Appeal Code 2012 (the Code) says designated grammar schools are permitted to select children for admission based on academic ability and may leave places unfilled if there are insufficient eligible applicants.
  4. The Code also says where a child did not meet the grammar school score and the appellant believes the child did not perform at their best on the day of the entrance test, the panel must only uphold the appeal if it is satisfied:
    • there is evidence to demonstrate that the child is of the required academic standards, and
    • where applicable, that the appellant’s arguments outweigh the admission authority’s case that admission of additional children would cause prejudice.

Background

  1. Mrs X applied for a school place for her son, Y, at school Z. School Z is a grammar school and Y sat the 11 plus entrance test.
  2. In March 2019 the Council advised Mrs X it could not offer Y a place at school Z as Y did not meet the required score for English in the 11 plus test. Mrs X appealed this decision and submitted evidence in support. She raised the following points:
    • Y’s particular talents would be best supported at school Z.
    • Y’s grandfather was receiving treatment for a serious illness and this put a strain on Y and the family.
    • Y had a recent dyslexic diagnosis and was given extra time for one element of the exam. It was confusing for Y to be told he would have extra time so close to the exam and could not practice for this.
    • Y’s older brother attends school Z and Y scored an overall higher test score in the 11 plus than his brother.
    • The school Y has been offered a place at is far away and would not offer him the rigorous academic challenges he deserves. The school also has limited choices at GCSE level.
  3. In May 2019 the appeals panel heard the prejudice case for school Z. At this time 222 school places had been accepted. At the meeting the panel agreed the school could admit up to 248 children in this academic year.
  4. At the beginning of June 2019, the appeals panel heard Mrs X’s appeal along with 67 appeals in total. At this time school Z had 217 accepted places. After the panel heard the appeals it upheld 27 of them so 244 pupils had been given a place at school Z.
  5. The Clerk’s notes for Mrs X’s appeal show the panel considered the evidence Mrs X presented. The panel’s deliberations show it considered Y’s recent dyslexia diagnosis, family illness, previous test scores submitted by Mrs X and Y’s primary school, headteacher support and that Y had a sibling at school Z. The panel noted it had no year six data from Y’s primary school and decided there was insufficient evidence to convince it Y would cope with the pace and level of work at school Z.
  6. The Clerk wrote to Mrs X to confirm the panel had not upheld her appeal. It said the admission authority put forward a case that Y was not a grammar school pupil and the school was oversubscribed so could not take pupils without prejudice. The letter said the panel did not uphold Mrs X’s appeal as the criteria to transfer to a grammar school had not been met and the panel considered there was insufficient evidence to show Y would cope with the pace and level of work.
  7. Mrs X remained dissatisfied so complained to the Ombudsman.

Analysis

  1. The role of the Ombudsman is to consider procedural fault. We do not question the professional judgement of the appeal panel, unless it is flawed by procedural fault. This means I cannot replace the panel’s views about whether Y is at the required standard for grammar school or should be offered a place at school Z, with my own views. Provided the panel made its decision in a way which is procedurally sound, I cannot criticise the judgment it eventually reached.
  2. Mrs X says the panel did not properly consider her appeal. I do not find fault in how the panel considered the appeal. The Clerk’s notes show the panel considered the points Mrs X presented as part of the appeal and decided Y was not of the required standard for admission to a grammar school. While I acknowledge Mrs X disagrees with the panel’s decision, it was a decision it was entitled to make.
  3. From the evidence I have seen, school Z did not fill all its school places. The Code says grammar schools may leave places unfilled if there are insufficient eligible applicants. As the panel concluded Y was not a grammar school pupil, the panel did not need to consider whether admitting Y to school Z would cause prejudice to school Z.
  4. Mrs X says the Council did not refer to her other child attending school Z in its decision letter and this was part of the admissions criteria. The Clerk’s notes show the panel considered this as it is listed under a key point of the appellant’s case. However, in response to my enquiry about this point, the Council said the panel did not refer to the sibling link in its decision letter as a sibling link did not make any difference in the outcome of the appeal. I find this reasonable as the panel found Y not to be a grammar school pupil.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation and found no fault in how the admissions appeal panel considered the appeal.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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