Decision : Closed after initial enquiries
Decision date : 27 Aug 2019
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Miss A’s complaint that the school admission appeal panel was at fault in refusing her appeal for a school place for her son. This is because it is unlikely we would find fault on the Council’s part.
- The complainant, who I will refer to as Miss A, complains that the school admission appeal panel was at fault in refusing her appeal for a school place for her son.
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)
How I considered this complaint
- I have considered what Miss A has said in support of her complaint and the appeal documents provided by the Council.
What I found
- Miss A applied for a school place for her son for admission to the Reception year group in September 2019. The Council received more applications for her preferred school than it had places available. It applied its oversubscription policy and refused Miss A's application. It allocated a place for her son at an alternative school.
- Miss A appealed against the Council's decision. She made a written submission and attended the appeal hearing to make her case in person. She set out why she wanted her son to attend the school and provided supporting evidence from her employer.
- The school admission appeal panel refused Miss A's appeal. Miss A believes the panel failed to give sufficient weight to her grounds of appeal. She also believes the fact that the Council allocated a place at the school to a child with an Education Health and Care Plan after all places had been filled is discriminatory
- 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 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.
- 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. 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.
- The clerk’s notes of Miss A's appeal hearing show that the panel considered the points she made in support of her appeal. It decided that none of the limited grounds on which it could allow the appeal applied. The weight the panel members chose to give to Miss A evidence was a matter for them, not the Ombudsman. Without evidence of fault the Ombudsman cannot criticise the panel's decision or intervene to substitute an alternative view.
- The Council was not at fault in allocating a place to a child with an Education Health and Care Plan. Such children are entitled to places at the school named in their Plan, even if this exceeds the admission number.
- The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint. This is because it is unlikely we would find fault on the Council’s part.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman