The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr X complains of fault when he applied for a school place for his son. The panel failed to record clear reasons for the decision to refuse a place. The School will arrange a fresh appeal with a new panel.
- The complainant, whom I shall call Mr X, complains of fault when he applied for a place in Year 5 at the School for his son, Z. Mr X says:
- The School failed to be transparent about the admissions process; and
- There was fault in the conduct of the admission appeal.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- If we are satisfied with a school admission authority’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)
- We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I read Mr X’s complaint and spoke to him on the telephone. I made enquiries of the School and considered the documents it sent via the local council. I considered the requirements of the School Admission Appeals Code 2012. I shared a draft of this decision with both parties and considered their comments.
What I found
- Mr X applied for a place in Year 5 for his son at the School, which is its own admission authority, though it uses the local council to deal with applications and appeals. The School refused the place and Mr X appealed against the refusal. He was unable to attend the appeal in person. The panel that heard the appeal refused it.
- In responding to the draft decision, the School said it had not refused the place. It said this was the local council. This is not correct. Schools that act as their own admissions authority carry full responsibility for the actions of those bodies they commission to act on their behalf.
- Mr X says the local council has not been transparent because it has not answered his questions about children gaining places between the end of the summer term and the date of his appeal in September 2019.
- The local council is not the admission authority. The School is responsible. Through the local council, it told me there were 33 children on roll at the end of the summer term. It said a child was offered a place on 12 September 2019, making 34 children in the class at the time of Mr X’s appeal.
- The School gave me the reason in confidence why the place was offered. This is because it was obliged to disclose this to the Ombudsman. It did not give and should not have given information to Mr X that could have led to the identification of a child or family’s personal circumstances. I do not find refusing to do so was a lack of transparency.
- It was also for the School to decide on 12 September 2019 if it could offer a further place. It could do so even if there was an appeal due later for another child it had earlier refused. The child whose appeal is due does not have priority. Offering a place on 12 September 2019 was not fault.
The conduct of the appeal
- The School Admission Appeals Code 2012 requires panels to leave a record of a hearing that enables the Ombudsman to see how they reach their decisions. In this case, the panel did not do so.
- As it was a Year 5 appeal, the panel had to balance Z’s need to attend the School with the prejudice admitting him would cause to the efficient education of other children. If refusing, there needs to be a clear reason why that reflects the cases put forward by both sides.
- Although Mr X did not attend the appeal, his written case included several reasons why he said Z needed to attend the School. The School’s case stated its difficulties in accommodating another child.
- The clerk’s notes of the decision gave the reason for the decision to dismiss the appeal as “full at 30 in Year 5”. I asked the School if there were any further notes of the deliberations. It confirmed there were none, though it claimed the panel had considered four points. I have seen no evidence to support this claim. As there were 34 children, not 30 on roll in Year at the time of the appeal, this casts further doubt whether the panel properly considered the two opposing cases. The admission of the 34th child also weakened the case that the class was full at 30. Without evidence in the clerk’s notes that shows the panel balanced the two competing cases as required, I cannot say it acted properly. I find the School at fault. This means Mr X cannot be certain his appeal was properly considered, which is injustice to him.
- To remedy the injustice caused by fault, the School will arrange a fresh appeal with a new panel for the Year 5 place. It should do so at its earliest convenience, and in any case within the timescale laid out in the School Admission Appeals Code 2012, unless prevented by circumstances outside its control.
- I have upheld the complaint about the admission appeal and closed the case as the School has agreed to hold a fresh appeal with a new panel.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman