The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: there is no fault in the Council’s February 2019 decision to refuse B’s parents’ request for his deferred entry to Reception. The Ombudsman cannot question decisions taken without fault.
- Mr F complains the Council refused his request for deferred entry to reception for his son, B. In particular, Mr F complains the Council has not explained why it considers it to be in B’s best interests to start school in Year 1.
What I have investigated
- I have considered how the Council made its decision. The Ombudsman does not decide whether B should start school in Reception or Year 1. This is the Council’s job.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints of injustice caused by ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
- 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)
How I considered this complaint
- I have considered:
- information provided by B’s parents;
- information provided by the Council;
- Advice on the admission of summer born children for local authorities, school admission authorities and parents issued by the Department for Education in December 2014; and
- Summer born admissions. Guidance for practitioners published by the Ombudsman in December 2018.
What I found
The admission of summer born children
- All children are entitled to a full-time school place in the September following their fourth birthday. A parent can defer the date their child is admitted to school until later in the school year, but not beyond the point at which they reach compulsory school age or the beginning of the final term of the school year in which they are offered a place.
- A child reaches compulsory school age on the ‘prescribed day’ following its fifth birthday. The prescribed days are 31 December, 31 March and 31 August.
- ‘Summer born children’ are children born between 1 April and 31 August. These children are not required to start school until the September following their fifth birthday. Ordinarily, they would then start school in Year 1.
- Parents can request their summer born children are admitted to a reception class in the September following their fifth birthday rather than Year 1. This means they are educated outside their normal age group. A headteacher may later, in consultation with the parents, move the child to their normal age group for educational reasons.
- Parents decide when their children start school. The admission authority (in this case, the Council) decides whether they start in reception or year 1.
- The Government and the Ombudsman have issued guidance to admission authorities when deciding which year group a child should be admitted to.
- The decision the admission authority must make is whether, on reaching compulsory school age, it would be in the child’s best interest to start in reception or year one. The admission authority must take account of the child’s individual needs and abilities and consider whether these can best be met in reception or year one.
Mr F’s request
- B is a summer born child. He is entitled to a school place from September 2019, although he is not required to start school until September 2020.
- B’s parents wrote to the Council in December 2018 to explain they had decided B would not start school until he reached compulsory school age in September 2020. They explained their concerns about B’s development and their preference for systems where children start school later. They requested the Council agree B’s deferred entry to Reception in September 2020.
- B was eligible for a place at his parents’ preferred school, so the Council consulted the head teacher about their request for deferred entry to Reception. The Council sent B’s parents’ request to the school. The school said it believed its staff would be able to support B in his chronological year group and this would be in his best interests.
- The school offered to visit B in his nursery, but this proved to be impractical.
- On 14 February, the Council emailed B’s parents to inform them it would not agree to B’s deferred entry to Reception in September 2020. The Council offered B a place in Reception in the 2019-2020 school year, with the option to start as late as the beginning of the summer term in 2020, but B’s parents declined.
- B’s parents were unhappy with the Council’s decision. They complained to the Council and then to the Ombudsman.
- B’s parents have decided he will start school in September 2020.
- The Ombudsman does not decide whether B should start school in Reception or Year 1. This is the Council’s job.
- The Council must consult the school. The school said it thought it would be in B’s best interests to attend in his ‘correct’ year. This is the year appropriate to his chronological age: in other words, Reception in the school year beginning in September 2019 or Year 1 in the school year beginning in September 2020. The school said its staff would be able to support B and provide any intervention necessary.
- The Council accepted the school’s advice and declined B’s parents’ request for deferred entry to Reception in September 2020.
- There is no fault in the Council’s decision. The Ombudsman cannot question decisions taken without fault, no matter how strongly a parent disagrees.
- The Council made its decision in February 2019, and this is the decision I have considered. It is possible that B’s circumstances have changed since the Council made its decision, or his parents have more information to support their request for his deferred entry to Reception. Other schools may be willing to offer B deferred entry to Reception. If this is the case, B’s parents should contact the Council directly. The Ombudsman has no role in the decision-making and can only consider complaints about decisions the Council has already made.
- I have ended my investigation. There is no fault in the Council’s February 2019 decision to refuse B’s parents’ request for his deferred entry to Reception. The Ombudsman cannot question decision taken without fault.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman