Somerset County Council (19 008 041)

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 A’s complaint that the school admission appeal panel was at fault in refusing her appeal for a school place for her daughter. This is because it is unlikely we would find fault on the Council’s part.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I will refer to as Mrs A, complains that the school admission appeal panel was at fault in refusing her appeal for a school place for her daughter.

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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 have considered what Mrs A has said in support of her complaint and the appeal documents provided by the Council.

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What I found

  1. Mrs A applied for a school place for her daughter for admission to the Reception year group in September 2019. Mrs A lives outside the school’s catchment area but already has a child at the school.
  2. The school has an admission number of 22 and the Council received more applications than it had places available. It applied its oversubscription policy and refused Mrs A’s application.
  3. Mrs A appealed against the Council's decision and attended the appeal hearing to make her case in person. She set out why she wanted her children at the same school and explained the difficulties an adverse decision would cause for her family.
  4. The school admission appeal panel refused Mrs A's appeal. Mrs A believes the panel was at fault, in that it failed to consider the fact that the school’s Headteacher has said his school can accommodate her daughter.
  5. Independent school admission appeals panels must follow the law when considering an appeal. The panel must consider whether:
  • the admission arrangements comply with the law;
  • the admission arrangements were properly applied to the case.
  1. The panel must then consider whether admitting another child would prejudice the education of others. If the panel finds there would be prejudice the panel must then consider each appellant’s individual arguments. If the panel decides the appellant’s case outweighs the prejudice to the school, it must uphold the appeal.
  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 Mrs A's appeal hearing show that the panel considered the points she made in support of her appeal. There is no evidence of fault in the way it did so. The weight the panel members chose to give to Mrs A’s evidence was a matter for them, not the Ombudsman.
  4. The written evidence does not indicate that the panel was asked to consider that the Headteacher had said could accommodate Mrs A’s daughter. The panel was required to decide the matter on the evidence before it and there is nothing to suggest fault in the way it did so. That being the case, the Ombudsman cannot criticise the panel's decision 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 on the Council’s part.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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