Kent County Council (19 004 300)

Category : Education > School admissions

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 28 Aug 2019

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman considers that there was fault by the independent appeal panel which considered Ms X’s school admissions appeal. However, he considers this did not cause injustice because it did not affect the outcome.

The complaint

  1. The complainant whom I shall refer to as Ms X, complains the independent school admission appeal panel failed to allow her to sum up her case during her appeal hearing for a school place for her daughter, Y. She also complains that the Council’s presenting officer provided factually incorrect information to the panel. In Ms X’s view the appeal hearing was administratively flawed and this led to her appeal being dismissed.

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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)
  2. If we are satisfied with independent 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have discussed the complaint with the complainant and considered the complaint and the copy correspondence provided by the complainant. I have made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council provided. I have also considered the complainant’s comments on my draft decision.

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What I found

  1. Ms X appealed to an independent appeal panel when the Council did not offer her daughter, Y, a place at a grammar school. Y did not obtain the pass mark in the entrance test for the school.
  2. Ms X sent a written appeal and provided supporting evidence. She attended the independent appeal panel hearing with Y’s father. They presented their case that Y should be admitted to the school. The Council’s representative presented the Council’s case. The panel dismissed Ms X’s appeal.
  3. Independent school admission appeals panels must follow the law when considering an appeal. The panel must consider whether:
    • the admission arrangements comply with the law;
    • the admission arrangements were properly applied to the case.
  4. The panel must then consider whether admitting another child would prejudice the education of others. If the panel finds there would be prejudice the panel must then consider each appellant’s individual arguments. If the panel decides the appellant’s case outweighs the prejudice to the school, it must uphold the appeal.
  5. The Ombudsman does not question the merits of decisions properly taken. The panel is entitled to come to its own judgment about the evidence it hears.
  6. Ms X complains that at the end of the hearing the appeal panel did not allow her to sum up her case. She said that the Council’s representative summed up and the appeal hearing then closed and she and the Council’s representative left the room. She realised afterwards that she had not been allowed to sum up.
  7. The clerk’s notes of the hearing do not show that the panel asked Ms X to sum up. I enquired if the panel had asked Ms X to sum up. The chair to the panel replied that the chair to the panel did not refuse Ms X the opportunity to sum up but simply omitted to ask her to do so or the clerk failed to note it. The Council said it did not believe that the panel’s failure to ask Ms X to sum up led to a failure in the panel forming its decision because Ms X had stated she had an opportunity to make her case.
  8. Ms X also complained that the Council’s representative and the panel referred to the Kent Test results (for Kent grammar schools), but this was not relevant, as the Dover grammar school test was the issue and her daughter had missed the pass mark by only two points. In its response to my enquiries the Council said that the result of the Kent Tests was relevant because entrance to the school appealed for was by either the Kent Tests or the Dover Test.
  9. Ms X complained that Council’s representative gave the wrong information about the science block not being complete by September 2019. She said she had asked the deputy head that morning and they had confirmed it would be. This was to support her grounds that the school would have additional classroom space and therefore admission of another pupil would not cause prejudice to the provision of efficient education of other pupils. In its response to my enquiries the Council said that its representative had spoken the headteacher’s PA and the school’s admissions officer the week before the appeal hearings and they had confirmed the science block would not be complete before September 2019, and would not in any case increase the school’s intake. The Council’s representative also states that she checked this information after the hearing and the head teacher’s PA confirmed by that the new block was still not expected to be complete by September 2019.
  10. Ms X complained that the Council’s representative stated that no other pupils had been admitted to the school who had not passed the Dover test when the panel asked this question. Ms X says that she is aware of other pupils who have been admitted who have not passed the Dover test. In its response to my enquiries the Council said that no child could be admitted without passing the Dover test unless by a head teacher review or by a decision of the independent appeal panel. It says that as the panal had yet to hear all the appeals its representative gave the correct advice.


  1. Based on the evidence I have seen the panel did not ask Ms X to sum up at the end of the appeal hearing. The School Admissions Appeals Code suggests that the order of proceedings of the appeal hearing includes a final summing up by the appellant. The Council’s guidance regarding appeals refers to this order of proceedings. The clerk to the panel confirmed that this was the order of the hearing, so it should have allowed Ms X to sum up, after the Council’s representative had summed up. Therefore, I consider this was fault by the panel.
  2. I have considered whether this fault caused injustice in that it affected the outcome of the appeal. However, based on the information I have seen currently, I do not consider that the outcome would have been different. The clerk’s notes of the hearing show Ms X had an opportunity to present her case. She was also able to question the presenting officer. The panel questioned Ms X and had an opportunity to consider her written appeal and the evidence she supplied. The notes show the panel asked Ms X if she was satisfied she had made her case, and she agreed. The clerk’s notes show the Council’s representative summed up but did not introduce any new information. So it seems unlikely that Ms X would have introduced new information in her summing up that would have changed the panel’s decision. It therefore does not appear that the panel’s fault caused Ms X injustice.
  3. I have not seen evidence of fault in the decision making as the panel appears to have considered relevant factors in accordance with The School Admissions Appeals Code. The Ombudsman cannot therefore question the merits of that decision as set out in paragraph 2.
  4. I have considered the other points Ms X made in her complaint in paragraphs 12-14 regarding alleged fault by the panel and the Council’s representative at the hearing. But I have not seen evidence of fault by the Council’s representative or the panel regarding these matters.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation and closed the complaint because there is no evidence of fault causing injustice to Ms X.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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