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St John Fisher Catholic Primary School (20 004 966)

Category : Education > School admissions

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 08 Oct 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mrs X’s complaint that the School’s Admissions Appeal Panel failed to provide her child with a place at their preferred school. It is unlikely the Ombudsman would find fault which caused them to lose out on a school place.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall call Mrs X, says the School’s Admissions Appeal Panel did not properly consider her appeal for a place for her child, D, at this 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 whether a 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)
  2. 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:
    • it is unlikely we would find fault, or
    • the fault has not caused injustice to the person who complained. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
  3. This complaint involves events that occurred during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Government introduced a range of new and frequently updated rules and guidance during this time. We can consider whether the Council followed the relevant legislation, guidance and our published “Principles of Good Administrative Practice during Covid”.

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered the information Mrs X provided with her complaint. The School provided me with the notes from the Appeal Panel hearing, the documents the Appeal Panel had and its decision letter. Mrs X has an opportunity to comment on this draft version.

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What I found

Background information

  1. Mrs X applied on time for a place for her child, D, to start in September 2020 in reception. An elder sibling attends there. D had attended the attached nursery.
  2. All the 30 places for September 2020 in reception were allocated under the published admission criteria. The last place went to an applicant who was in a higher category than Mrs X’s application.
  3. Mrs X appealed the decision not to award a place at the School for D, to an Independent Appeal Panel. It considered the case in July 2020 by video conference. Mrs X told the Appeal Panel that:
    • D had attended the attached nursery and had settled in with friends and staff;
    • Moving from the nursery to another school would not be in D’s best interests;
    • They would have logistical difficulties getting three children to three different settings;
    • this school provided the quality of education they wanted and the allocated school was not as good;
    • she believed her religion was so close to the Catholic faith that they should have been in the Catholic category.
  4. The Appeal Panel refused Mrs X’s appeal and she complained to us. She says:
    • they should have been categorised as Catholic;
    • D is upset at having to go to a different school;
    • They have logistical problems with school runs.

Analysis

The appeals panel’s and Ombudsman’s role

  1. Independent appeal panels must follow the law when considering an appeal. The law says the size of an infant class must not be more than 30 pupils per teacher. There are only limited circumstances in which more than 30 children can be admitted. These are called excepted pupils.
  2. There are special rules governing appeals for Reception and Years 1 and 2. Appeals under these rules are known as “infant class size appeals”. The rules say the panel must consider whether:
    • admitting another child would breach the class size limit;
    • the admission arrangements comply with the law:
    • the admission arrangements were properly applied to the case:
    • the decision to refuse a place was one which a reasonable authority would have made in the circumstances.
  3. What is ‘reasonable’ is a high test. The panel needs to be sure that to refuse a place was “perverse” or “outrageous”. For that reason, panels rarely find an admission authority’s decision to be unreasonable in light of the admission arrangements.
  4. If the Panel decides the reasons for granting a place on appeal have been met, then that extra child becomes an ‘excepted’; child for the infant class size rules. It means the school can go over 30 and not breach the law.
  5. We cannot question the decision if it has been properly taken. If the Panel has been properly informed, and used the correct procedure, then it is entitled to come to its own judgment about the evidence it hears.

The appeal in this complaint

  1. The Council clearly told Mrs X before the appeal the place had been refused because of the Infant Class Size rules. It also clearly explained what this meant.
  2. The Appeal Panel decided that admitting another child would breach the infant class limit for the school year 2020/21. There will be 30 pupils per teacher. A school can only admit more than 30 pupils per teacher if the extra pupils are classified as excepted pupils. D does not meet the criteria as an excepted pupil.
  3. The Appeal Panel considered the admission arrangements and decided they complied with the law.
  4. The Appeal Panel was also satisfied that the admission arrangements had been properly applied in this case. The School’s admission criteria are clearly stated on their website. The faith Mrs X belongs to is not the Catholic faith. Every other Christian faith, no matter how close to the Catholic faith they are, fall under a different admissions category.
  5. Having a nursery place is not part of the admissions criteria. And plays no part in deciding if a child should have a place in reception. If you have a place in the nursery it does not mean you have a place at the school in reception.
  6. The Appeal Panel’s decision letter records the reasons Mrs X presented at the Appeal Panel for wanting a place. It is clear the Appeal Panel considered Mrs X’s reasons for wanting a place and decided the decision to refuse a place was one which a reasonable authority would have made in the circumstances and in light of the admission arrangements.
  7. It is unlikely we would find fault in the Appeal Panel’s decision. The information I have seen supports the Appeal Panel’s decision.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint. This is because it is unlikely we would find fault.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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