Leeds City Council (20 002 640)

Category : Education > School admissions

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 04 Dec 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mrs M complains about an Independent Appeal Panel’s decision not to admit her son to a primary school. There is no fault in the Panel’s decision. The Ombudsman cannot question decisions taken without fault.

The complaint

  1. Mrs M complains about an Independent Appeal Panel’s decision not to admit her son to a primary school. Mrs M complains the Council’s medical needs panel failed to properly consider her son’s hearing impairment and the impact of Covid-19 on preparations for his transition to primary school.

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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 a school admission appeal panel’s decision simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider if there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3))
  2. We check the Independent Appeal Panel followed the Code of Practice issued by the Department for Education and the hearing was fair.  We do this by examining the notes taken by the Clerk during the hearing.  We do not have the power to overturn the Panel’s decision, and we cannot give a child a place at the school. If we find fault, which calls the panel’s decision into question, we may ask for a new appeal hearing.
  3. If we are satisfied with a panel’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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered:
    • Mrs M’s comments;
    • all the information presented to the Appeal Panel, the notes taken by the Clerk during the appeal, and the Panel’s decision letter following the appeal; and
    • the School Admissions Appeals Code.
  2. I invited Mrs M and the Council to comment on my draft decision.

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What I found

  1. The primary school is a Community School. The Council is the Admission Authority and is responsible for admissions and appeals.
  2. Mrs M applied for a place for her son in Reception. Her application and subsequent appeal were unsuccessful. Mrs M complained to the Ombudsman.
  3. The Ombudsman checks the appeal was carried out properly. We do not decide whether Mrs M’s son should be given a place at the school.
  4. The School Admission Appeals Code issued by the Department for Education sets out the process the Independent Appeal Panel must follow when considering an appeal.
  5. No more than 30 children can be taught by a single teacher in an infant class (Reception and Years 1 and 2). If this is not possible without reorganisation or employing extra staff, and this would harm the education of other pupils, “infant class size prejudice” rules apply to the appeal.
  6. When infant class size prejudice rules apply, the Appeal Panel can only legally uphold an appeal if:
      1. the child would have been offered a place were it not for some flaw in the admission arrangements; and/or
      2. the child would have been offered a place if the admissions arrangements had been implemented properly; and/or
      3. the decision to refuse a place was one which no reasonable authority would have made.
  7. The threshold for appeals made under c. above is extremely high. The Panel cannot legally uphold appeals which do not fall into the categories above, no matter how persuasive the appeal otherwise is.
  8. The Panel considered whether the infant class size prejudice rules applied to Mrs M’s appeal. There will be one class of thirty children in Reception at the school. The Council explained in its submission to the Panel that the school does not have resources or space for extra pupils. The Panel decided, therefore, that infant class size prejudice rules apply to Mrs M’s appeal. This is a decision the Panel can take and there are no grounds for the Ombudsman to question it.
  9. The Panel also considered whether the admission arrangements complied with the law and decided they did.
  10. The Panel then considered whether the Council had correctly applied the admission criteria to the application. Mrs M’s application was unsuccessful because there were more applications than places at the school, and all the places were given to children with more priority than Mrs M’s son.
  11. Mrs M applied for a place based on her son’s medical needs. A Council medical needs panel considered her request but decided any Leeds primary school could meet his needs. There was some discussion at the hearing about whether Mrs M had a separate right of appeal against the medical needs panel’s decision. The school’s representative confirmed she does not. The Panel then considered all the evidence Mrs M provided, including medical evidence, and decided Council had correctly applied the admission criteria.
  12. Finally, the Panel had to consider whether the decision to refuse Mrs M’s son a place was one which a reasonable admission authority would have made in the circumstances of the case.
  13. The Clerk’s notes and the decision letter record Mrs M’s discussions with the Panel at the hearing. I can see from the Clerk’s notes that the hearing lasted for an hour and twenty minutes, and the Panel considered a submission from Mrs M’s friend, a lawyer, received the evening before the hearing. Mrs M made clear her concerns that delays due to the Covid-19 pandemic had delayed assessments of her son’s needs and explained why, as a result, she believed the school was the only one that could meet his medical needs.
  14. The Panel considered Mrs M’s concerns, but decided they are not factors the Panel can take into account when considering whether a reasonable admission authority would refuse Mrs M’s application. A reasonable admission authority can only admit children in accordance with the published admission criteria. The Panel was satisfied Mrs M’s application was considered in accordance with the published admission criteria. The Panel could not, therefore, uphold Mrs M’s appeal.

Other matters

  1. In addition to her appeal, Mrs M also complained to the Council about her dealings with the Council’s deaf and hearing impairment team. She is unhappy with the Council’s response to her request for an EHC Plan and transition planning for B’s transfer to primary school. Mrs M described the impact COVID-19 had on her attempts to get support for B.
  2. Mrs M received the Council’s final response to her complaint on 6 November 2020. Mrs M remains dissatisfied and would like the Ombudsman to consider the matter. She points out that her complaint is closely linked to her application and appeal for a place at the school.
  3. I have only considered Mrs M’s complaint about the appeal. Like the appeal panel, I can only take account of information available at the time of the hearing. If the outcome of Mrs M’s complaint to the Council, or any subsequent complaint to the Ombudsman, calls into question information presented to the appeal panel, Mrs M may ask the Council to reconsider her application or arrange a fresh appeal.

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Final decision

  1. I have ended my investigation. There is no fault in the appeal which calls the outcome into question. The Ombudsman cannot question decisions taken without fault.

Investigator’s decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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