Cumbria County Council (19 004 866)

Category : Education > School admissions

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 05 Jul 2019

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Miss X’s complaint that the Council’s school admission appeal panel failed to properly consider her appeal for a school place for her child. This is because it is unlikely we would find fault by the Council in its handling of the appeal.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, Miss X, complains the School was at fault in refusing her appeal for a school place for her child.

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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 Miss X’s complaint and the appeal documents provided by the Council. I shared my draft decision with Miss X and considered her comments.

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What I found

  1. Miss X applied for a primary school place for her child beginning in September 2019. The school for which Miss X applied was oversubscribed so the Council applied its oversubscription criteria and refused Miss X's application.
  2. Miss X appealed against the decision. In support of her appeal, she said her child split their time living with her and their father and that their father lives within the school’s catchment area. She was concerned a letter sent in support of their application had been lost by the Council and explained the child’s grandfather was not well. She also set out the problems the child would experience getting to school from their father’s house. The school admission appeal panel refused the appeal and Miss X believes it was wrong to do so.
  3. Independent school admission appeals 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.
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. The clerk's notes of Miss X's appeal hearing indicate that she was able to present her case, and that her grounds of appeal and supporting evidence were available to the members of the appeal panel. It decided that none of the grounds on which it was able to uphold the appeal applied. There is no evidence of fault in the way the panel reached this view.
  4. Having considered the cases made by Miss X and the admission authority, it was for the panel to decide how much weight to give to the evidence before it. There is no evidence of fault in the way it did so. In the absence of evidence of fault, the Ombudsman cannot criticise the decision the panel made, or intervene to substitute an alternative view.

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Final decision

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

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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