Decision : Closed after initial enquiries
Decision date : 04 Aug 2020
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint about an unsuccessful school admissions appeal. This is because he is unlikely to determine any injustice to the complainant’s child following fault by the school admissions panel.
- The complainant, who I refer to as Mrs D, is making a complaint about an unsuccessful appeal for her child to attend her preferred school. She says her appeal was unsuccessful for the reason there must not be more than 30 pupils in an infant class, yet the number in the school offered exceeds this number.
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 must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we believe any fault has not caused injustice to the person who complained. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended).
How I considered this complaint
- I have reviewed Mrs D’s complaint to the Ombudsman and Admission Authority which in this case was the Council. I have also had regard to the Council’s responses, including notes taken during the school admissions appeal hearing. Mrs D also received an opportunity to comment on a draft of this decision.
What I found
- The school admission appeals panel (the Panel), sits as an independent admission panels for the benefit of children, parents, schools, and academies. Its responsibility is to ensure that parents feel they have had a fair and independent hearing and been given every opportunity to put their case and that the points they have made have been taken seriously and carefully considered.
- The School Admissions (Infant Class Sizes) (England) Regulations 2012 states that there must not be more than 30 children in an infant class (that is, classes containing reception, year 1 and year 2 children). The Government has listed the circumstances in which a child can be classed as an exception. These include twin siblings, children of armed services parents, looked after children, and children who have special educational needs.
- In an appeal where the admission of a child would breach the infant class size limit, the School Admission Appeals Code (the Code) states the Panel must consider whether to refuse admission was one which a reasonable admission authority would have made in the circumstances. The threshold for finding that an admission authority’s decision to refuse admission was not one that a reasonable authority would have made is high. The Panel will need to be satisfied that the decision to refuse to admit the child was perverse in the light of the admission arrangements. In other words, the decision must have been so beyond the range of responses open to a reasonable decision maker or which is so outrageous in its defiance of logic or of accepted moral standards that no sensible person who had applied his mind to the question could have arrived at it.
- Mrs D applied for her son to attend a school within the Council’s area as it was better suited in allowing him to be collected from school. However, her application was refused and her child was offered a place at a different school.
- In April 2020, Mrs D appealed the decision on the grounds that she applied to her preferred school because she knew people locally who could collect her child from school. Further, Mrs D added that this was important as her child’s father has a number of health difficulties which could prevent her child from being collected from school. The Council’s case was that to admit a further pupil would breach the infant class size limit. Short of making a case, the Council also confirmed that a decision to refuse admission would be reasonable in the circumstances. It expressed this confirmation by writing ‘not applicable’ next to an excerpt of the statutory guidance in its written case to the Panel.
- In July 2020, Mrs D’s appeal was heard by the Panel. It considered all written submissions, including the primary reason Mrs D had opted for the preferred school and the medical difficulties of her husband. However, it accepted the Council’s case that to accept a further pupil would breach the infant class size limit. This Panel, in its letter to Mrs D, also accepted the Council’s argument that there are no measures it could take to avoid a breach of the infant class size limit without prejudicing the provision of efficient education or efficient use of resources. The Panel therefore dismissed the appeal on this basis.
- By law, there must not be more than 30 children in an infant class, unless a child meets a statutory exemption. In this case, both the Council and Panel were required to observe the pupil maximum and they determined that to admit a further child would have breached the infant class size limit. I cannot find fault by the Panel with its application of the infant class size limit.
- The Panel is also required to consider whether to refuse admission was one which a reasonable admission authority would have made in the circumstances of the case. This means the Council must make the case that it would not be reasonable for it to incur the additional staffing and resources of complying with the Regulations. On this point, the Council did not make a case as it simply confirmed to the Panel that non-admission was reasonable in the circumstances. This consequently led the Panel to determine that there were no measures the school could take to allow a further child, in breach of the infant class size limit, without prejudicing the provision of efficient education or efficient use of resources. In my view, the Council did not make this case and the Panel therefore had no basis to make the determination on whether to refuse admittance was a reasonable decision. The Council simply confirming that refusal to admit is reasonable, without making a case, is not sufficient. For this reason, I do find fault by the Panel because it failed to consider all factors as per the Code.
- I must therefore assess whether Mrs D’s child has suffered an injustice, that is, a serious loss, harm, or distress as a direct result of the fault. In these circumstances, I must consider whether Mrs D’s child would have been admitted to her preferred school, but for the fault of the Panel. As said, the test of reasonableness is high. In my view, had the Council properly made its case to the Panel, I do not consider the outcome would have been different for Mrs D’s child. On this basis, it is unlikely Mrs D’s child would have been admitted even had the fault not occurred. I therefore cannot make any determination of injustice.
- I will not investigate this complaint because I am unlikely to determine any injustice to the complainant’s child following fault by the school admissions panel.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman