St. Augustines Catholic Primary School (19 004 633)

Category : Education > School admissions

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 08 Jul 2019

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr X’s complaint the Schools Admissions Appeal Panel failed to provide his child with a place at this school. It is unlikely the Ombudsman would find fault which caused him to lose out on a school place.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall call Mr X, says the Schools Admissions Appeal Panel did not properly consider his appeal for a place for his children, D and E.

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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 a 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. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we believe:
    • it is unlikely we would find fault, or
    • the fault has not caused injustice to the person who complained. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered the information Mr X provided with his complaint. The Council, on behalf of the School, provided me with the notes from the Appeal Panel hearing, the documents the Appeal Panel had and its decision letter. Mr X had an opportunity to comment on a draft version of this decision.

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What I found

Background information

  1. Mr X applied on time for a place for his children, twins D and E, to start in September 2019 in reception at this School. D and E’s elder siblings attended the school.
  2. There were more applicants than places for this School’s 45 places. The School applied the admission criteria which sets out who should be granted places when a school is over subscribed. The last place went to a pupil in Category Six. D and E were in Category Eight. This is because at the application closing date they had not been baptised Catholic.
  3. The Council granted D and E places at the nearest school with places, School Z. This is the nearest school to their home around 300 metres distance.
  4. Mr X appealed the decision not to award a place at this School for D and E, to an Independent Appeal Panel who heard the case in May 2019. Mr X said:
    • They could not get four children to two different schools;
    • The twins had been baptised in March 2019;
    • They had called off D and E’s baptism plans because of a family bereavement.
  5. The Appeal Panel refused Mr X’s appeal and he complained to us. He said he wanted his children at the same school and at a Catholic school which implemented Catholic beliefs.

Analysis

The appeals panel’s and Ombudsman’s role

  1. Independent 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. These are called excepted pupils.
  2. 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 ‘reasonable’ 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 in light of the admission arrangements.
  4. We cannot question the decision if it has been properly taken. If the Panel has been properly informed, and used the correct procedure, then it is entitled to come to its own judgment about the evidence it hears.

The appeal in this complaint

  1. The Council clearly told Mr X before the appeal the place had been refused because of the Infant Class Size rules. It also clearly explained what this meant.
  2. The notes of the appeal hearing provide evidence the Appeal Panel followed the correct procedure.
  3. The Appeal Panel decided that admitting another child would breach the infant class limit for the school year when those children went into Year One. There will be 30 pupils per teacher in Year One and Two. A school can only admit more than 30 pupils per teacher if the extra pupils are classified as excepted pupils. D and E do not meet the criteria as excepted pupils.
  4. The Appeal Panel considered the admission arrangements and decided they complied with the law.
  5. The Appeal Panel was also satisfied that the admission arrangements had been properly applied in this case.
  6. The Appeal Panel’s decision letter records the reasons Mr X presented at the Appeal Panel for wanting a place. It is clear the Appeal Panel considered Mr X’s reasons for wanting a place and decided the decision to refuse a place was one which a reasonable authority would have made in the circumstances and in light of the admission arrangements. The granted school, School Z, is well within the maximum walking distance the law sets of two miles, which it is reasonable to expect an infant child to walk to school.
  7. It is unlikely we would find fault in the Appeal Panel’s decision. The information I have seen supports the Appeal Panel’s decision.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint. This is because it is unlikely we would find fault.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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