Sheffield City Council (19 007 190)

Category : Education > School admissions

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 03 Sep 2019

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mrs X’s complaint that the Council’s Schools Admissions Appeal Panel failed to provide her child with a place at her preferred school. It is unlikely the Ombudsman would find fault which caused them to lose out on a school place.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall call Mrs X, says the Council’s Schools Admissions Appeal Panel did not properly consider her appeal for a place for her child, D, at School B.

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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 Mrs X provided with her complaint. The Council provided me with the notes from the Appeal Panel hearing, the documents the Appeal Panel had and its decision letter. Mrs X has an opportunity to comment on a draft version of this decision.

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What I found

  1. Mrs X applied on time for a place for her child, D, to start in September 2019 in reception at School B. Mrs X has other children attending School B.
  2. There were more applicants than places for School B’s 90 places. The Council applied the admission criteria which sets out who should be granted places when a school is over subscribed. As there were more applicants with siblings at the school than places, the distance the applicant lived from School B became the determining factor. Mrs X lives 1.8 miles from School B on a straight line calculation. The last place went to a pupil who lives closer to School B at 0.562 miles.
  3. The Council allocated D a place at the nearest school with places, School Z. This is less than a mile walking distance from their home and is on the way to School B.
  4. Mrs X appealed the decision not to award a place at School B for D, to an Independent Appeal Panel who heard the case in July 2019. Mrs X said:
    • Her husband could not drive their children to two different schools;
    • One of her children at School B has special educational needs.
  5. The Appeal Panel refused Mrs X’s appeal and she complained to us.


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 Mrs 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 2019/20. There will be 30 pupils per teacher. A school can only admit more than 30 pupils per teacher if the extra pupils are classified as excepted pupils. D does not meet the criteria as an excepted pupil.
  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 Mrs X presented at the Appeal Panel for wanting a place. It is clear the Appeal Panel considered Mrs X’s reasons for wanting a place. It decided the decision to refuse a place was one which a reasonable authority would have made at the time the places were allocated taking into account the published admission arrangements. The allocated school, School Z, is well within the maximum walking distance the law sets as reasonable to expect an infant child to walk to school, of two miles.
  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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