Decision : Closed after initial enquiries
Decision date : 18 Mar 2020
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mrs X’s complaint about an unsuccessful appeal for a school place. This is because there is not enough evidence of fault by the panel and so we cannot question the merits of its decision.
- Mrs X complains about an unsuccessful appeal for a school place.
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 considered Mrs X’s complaint to the Ombudsman and the papers from her appeal. I also gave Mrs X the opportunity to comment on a draft statement before reaching a final decision on her complaint.
What I found
- Mrs X’s son (Y) was not offered a place at his preferred secondary school (School Z). Mrs X sent Y to a private school and made an in-year application for a Year 8 place at School Z. The Council was again unable to offer Y a place at School Z. The Council therefore offered Y a place at the closest school with spaces. Because Mrs X felt the school offered was too far away, she appealed the decision not to offer her son a place at School Z.
- Mrs X attended the appeal for a place at School Z. During the appeal, the Council’s representative explained why it was not possible to offer Y a place at School Z. They explained the difficulties admitting a further child would cause. Mrs X and the panel had the opportunity to ask questions.
- Independent appeal panels must follow the law when considering an appeal. They need to consider if the school’s admission arrangements comply with the law, and if they were properly applied to the appellant’s application. They need to decide if admitting further children would “prejudice the provision of efficient education or the efficient use of resources.” If they think it would, they need to consider if an appellant’s arguments outweigh the prejudice to the school.
- The panel decided the school’s admission arrangements complied with the law and had been properly applied to Mrs X’s application. They decided that admitting further children would cause prejudice to the school. The clerk’s notes show Mrs X had the opportunity to present her case. She explained the difficulties it would cause if Y could not attend School Z. She explained how Y was currently out of school because the fees for the private school he had attended were too high. Mrs X explained the concerns she had about the school the Council had offered – and especially the journey. Mrs X supplied information in support of her appeal. The panel decided the evidence put forward by Mrs X was not strong enough to outweigh the prejudice admitting a further child would cause the school.
- The Ombudsman is not an appeal body and we cannot criticise decisions taken without fault. The evidence I have seen shows the panel followed the proper process to consider Mrs X’s appeal. It considered the information it was presented with. It is for panels to decide what weight should be given to each piece of evidence. The decision to refuse Mrs X’s appeal is one the panel was entitled to take. The clerk’s notes match the decision letter sent to Mrs X.
- I understand Mrs X is disappointed with the panel’s decision. But without evidence of fault in how the panel reached its decision, there are no grounds for the Ombudsman to become involved. An investigation is not therefore appropriate.
- Subject to any comments Mrs X might make, my view is the Ombudsman should not investigate her complaint. This is because there is not enough evidence of fault by the panel and so we cannot question the merits of its decision.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman