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 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.
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 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)
How I considered this complaint
- 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.
What I found
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- I have completed my investigation and closed the complaint because there is no evidence of fault causing injustice to Ms X.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman