Kent County Council (19 019 118)

Category : Education > School admissions

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 13 Mar 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: A parent complained that the Council’s Head Teacher Assessment Panel did not properly consider his son’s suitability for admission to grammar school. But the Ombudsman will not investigate this matter because the parent has a right of appeal to an independent appeal panel about a refusal of a place at a grammar school.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I shall call Mr X, complained that the Council’s Head Teacher Assessment (HTA) Panel unfairly decided his son (‘Y’) was not suitable for a grammar school education. In particular Mr X said the Panel did not follow proper processes and gave insufficient consideration to the evidence of Y’s academic ability. As a result he wanted a re-assessment by a more competent Panel, and for the Council to improve its practices.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. The Local Government Act 1974 sets out our powers but also imposes restrictions on what we can investigate.
  2. The law says we cannot normally investigate a complaint when someone can appeal to a tribunal. However, we may decide to investigate if we consider it would be unreasonable to expect the person to appeal. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6)(a), as amended)
  3. School admission appeal panels are independent tribunals which consider appeals about refusals of applications for school places.

How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered the information Mr X provided with his complaint. I also took account of Mr X’s comments, and additional documents he supplied, in response to a draft version of this decision.

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What I found

  1. Applicants for most of the grammar schools in the Council’s area are required to take the Kent Test. This is an examination used to assess whether a child is suitable for a grammar school education.
  2. Mr X wants Y to attend a Kent grammar school when he transfers to secondary school in September 2020.
  3. Y took the Kent Test but his score in one subject was below the threshold to be considered for a grammar school.
  4. Where a child has failed the Test, their primary school may refer their case to the HTA Panel for a review. The HTA Panel considers if the child is nevertheless suitable for a grammar school based on evidence of their schoolwork.
  5. Y’s primary school referred his case to the HTA Panel. But the Panel assessed him as not suitable for grammar school.
  6. Mr X then complained to the Council that there were serious errors in the HTA Panel’s review process and decision making in Y’s case which produced an unfair result.

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Analysis

  1. But I have concluded that we should not investigate Mr X’s complaint. This is because Mr X ultimately has a right of appeal to a school admission appeal panel about the refusal of a place for Y at any of his preferred schools, including any grammar schools.
  2. In deciding an appeal, one of the matters the appeal panel must consider is whether the admission arrangements have been correctly applied in the child’s case. The assessment of a child’s suitability for a grammar school education is part of the admission arrangements where applications for grammar schools are concerned. Therefore issues about those assessments can be raised at an appeal.
  3. In this respect I also note the Government’s statutory School Admission Appeals Code refers specifically to the panel’s role in cases where there is a local review process regarding suitability for grammar school. In particular the Code says the panel must consider if the review was carried out in a fair, consistent and objective way.
  4. The law says we normally cannot investigate complaints where someone has a right of appeal to a statutory tribunal, unless it is not reasonable to expect the person to go to appeal. A school admission appeal panel is a statutory tribunal panel.
  5. Mr X is understandably concerned about the HTA Panel’s process and decision in Y’s case. But Mr X can still apply for a place for Y at any grammar schools he wants him to attend and, if his applications are refused, I see no reason why he should not be expected to use his right of appeal to an admission appeal panel.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr X’s complaint that the Council’s HTA Panel did not properly consider his son’s suitability for a grammar school place. This is because Mr X ultimately has a right of appeal to a school admission appeal panel about this matter.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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