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Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council (21 001 673)

Category : Education > School admissions

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 01 Dec 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complained about the Council’s refusal to consider his request to admit his summer born child to school outside of his normal age group, into reception, instead of year 1. The Ombudsman has found fault by the Council causing injustice. It has agreed to remedy this by apologising, making a payment to reflect the distress, time and trouble caused and a service improvement.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I am calling Mr X, complained about the Council’s refusal to consider his request to admit his summer born child, who I am calling Z, to school outside his normal age group into reception, instead of year 1.
  2. Mr X says the Council should have considered his request and has not treated them fairly. He wants it to reverse its decision and allow Z to be admitted to the current reception year at their local 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 must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
  2. If we are satisfied with a council’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 spoke to Mr X, made enquiries of the Council and read the information Mr X and the Council provided about the complaint
  2. I invited Mr X and the Council to comment on a draft version of this decision. I considered their responses before making my final decision.

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What I found

What should have happened

The Schools Admissions Code (the Code)

  1. The Code requires school admission authorities to provide for the admission of all children in the September following their fourth birthday. This is when children usually start school, although a child does not reach compulsory school age (CSA) until the “prescribed day” following their fifth birthday. Summer born children (those born from 1 April to 31 August) do not need to start school until the September following their fifth birthday.
  2. Where a parent decides to delay their summer born child’s start at school and wants their child to start in reception, rather than year 1 alongside the rest of their age cohort, they must make a request to the admission authority for the school concerned.
  3. The admission authority is responsible for deciding to which year group a child should be admitted. The Code requires it to make a decision about which of reception or year 1 the child is admitted to, on the basis of the circumstances of the case and in the best interests of the child concerned.
  4. To improve clarity and transparency for parents, admission authorities are required to make clear in their admission arrangements the process for requesting admission out of the child’s normal year group. It should set out what information and evidence parents should provide and when.

Admission of summer born children: advice for local authorities and school admission authorities (The Advice)

  1. The Advice is non-statutory and was updated on 27 May 2021.
  2. It says (paragraph 11) parents may not be aware of the possibility of delaying entry alongside an application until the deadline has passed or it may not become clear the child would benefit until later. The Code requires admission authorities to make decisions in the best interests of the child in any circumstances where the parent requests admission outside the child’s normal age group – this includes instances where the application is made outside the authority’s published deadlines.

What happened

  1. Z was born in Summer 2016. In January 2020 Mr X applied for a reception year place for Z at a school within the Council’s area. They were offered, and accepted, a place for Z in reception for the 2020/2021 school year starting September 2020.
  2. In August 2020 Mr X contacted the Council. He said they were concerned about Z’s wellbeing, as there had been issues with his attendance at nursery school, and they were also about to move. They wanted to look into home educating Z as a temporary measure until they moved and were able to find Z a place at their new local school. The Council replied on 17 August 2020. It said as Z was not of CSA until 31 August 2021, there was no requirement to home educate him before this date.
  3. Mr X says Z did not attend the school at which he had the reception year place. His only engagement was joining a number of online classroom calls with a large number of children and their parents between January and March 2021.
  4. Mr X and his family moved to a new area in early 2021. In February 2021 he contacted the new local school about a place for Z in reception year from September 2021. The school said it would consider this once the Council had made its decision on the request.
  5. Mr X contacted the Council. He asked how they could “defer” Z’s entry into reception until September 2021. While researching reception places in the new area they had come across information about changes to the school admissions code and the right of parents of summer born children to request their admission into reception, rather than year 1, when they reached CSA.
  6. The Council replied in March 2021. It said their application for a new school place in September 2021 would have to be for year 1. It would not agree to Z starting in reception in September 2021 as the request should have been made the previous year. Mr X queried this response. He asked why the Council considered it was in Z’s best interests to miss reception and start school in year 1.
  7. The Council sent a number of responses to Mr X’s request, including:
  • It refused the request because of when it was made. Under its process, parents must make the request and have it agreed before the child starts in reception.
  • It could not consider the request without professional evidence.
  • They had already taken up a reception place. It had received confirmation Z had briefly attended and engaged with home learning. The school’s understanding was there were no unfulfilled needs at present.
  • Headteachers at the new schools approached for a reception place had considered the request and could find no grounds to approve it.
  • It did not have a blanket approach to summer born children deferment requests and would consider each case thoroughly on its merits.
  • The admissions code of practice only allows parents of children of nursery school age to request deferment prior to entering reception.
  1. In its final response to the complaint the Council said:
  • Mr X chose to enroll Z at school in September 2020. Irrespective of his attendance, Z was on that roll until March 2021. In its view, this meant, Mr X no longer had the right to request Z be admitted to reception instead of year 1.
  • It did not ask headteachers about the request to delay entry because there was no need to do so as Z was already in reception.
  • It had not considered their request because it was not obliged to do so.
  1. Mr X was unhappy about the Council’s response to the request and brought the complaint to us in May 2021.
  2. Mr X successfully applied to a neighbouring local authority for a reception place for Z in September 2021 at a school within its area. Z has now started in reception there. But this school is some way from where they live and involves a car journey. Mr X’s preference had been for Z to start in September 2021 in the reception year at a local school.

Analysis – was there fault by the Council causing injustice?

  1. In my view, it is clear Mr X did not know, when he applied for a September 2020 reception place, he had the right to request to delay Z’s entry into reception until September 2021. He did not find out about this option until February 2021.
  2. The Council says it is not a statutory requirement to make parents aware they may ask for admission outside the child’s normal year group. But the Code requires admission authorities to make the process for making such a request clear in their admission arrangements.
  3. I note the Council has made a number of references to deferment requests. A request to defer a place is not the same as a request to delay entry of a summer born child into reception.
  4. I have not been able to find any reference, in either the Council’s published guidance about applying for primary school for the academic year 2020/2021 or its admissions policy for the same year, to the process parents of summer born children should follow to request to delay their child’s entry into reception until the academic year following their fifth birthday.
  5. The Council’s guidance refers only to deferral of a reception place up to the term following the child’s fifth birthday, but not beyond the academic year for which the original application was accepted. It also says exceptions can apply and individual circumstances will be considered in every case.
  6. The Council’s policy says only requests for deferred entry and admission outside of chronological age group should be made to the school’s admission authority.
  7. One of the reasons the Council gave for not considering Mr X’s request in Spring 2021 was that under its process, parents must make the request and have it agreed before the child starts in reception. In my view the Council was wrong to tell Mr X this. The Council does not have a published process for requests to delay entry of summer born children into reception.
  8. The Council said in its response to us, by applying for a reception place for Z in September 2020, Mr X had already decided this was in Z’s best interests. But it could not have been an informed decision because Mr X did not know about the option to ask to delay Z’s entry. And in any event the Code and Advice are quite clear it is the Council’s responsibility to decide to which of reception or year 1 the child is admitted, based on the circumstances of the case and best interests of the child concerned.
  9. I also note the Council’s references to information it received from schools about Mr X’s request. I have not seen evidence of any such information.
  10. I have not found anything in the Code or Advice which requires parents of a summer born child to make a request to delay their entry by any specified date, or that the right to make a request is lost if it is not made in time. The Advice specifically refers to situations, such as here, where parents are not aware of this option. It says admission authorities must make a decision in the best interests of the child in any circumstances where the parent requests admissions outside the child’s normal age group – including where the application is made outside the authority’s published deadlines.
  11. The Council refused to consider Mr X’s request and refused to make such a decision about Z’s best interests. In my view this was fault, causing Mr X injustice.
  12. Mr X lost the opportunity to have his request properly considered in Spring 2021. I am not able to say what decision the Council would have made had it properly considered this. But its failure to do so has caused Mr X distress and uncertainty about Z’s start at school in September 2021, and time and trouble pursing his request with the Council and his complaint with us.
  13. Z started school in September 2021 in the reception year of a school in another local authority area. Should Mr X make a request for an in-year admission for Z at a school within the Council’s area, together with a request for Z to be admitted outside of his chronological age year, the Council should consider this in accordance with the Code, Advice and its current published admission policy.

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Recommended action

  1. To remedy the injustice caused by the above faults, and within four weeks from the date of our final decision, the Council has agreed to:
  • Apologise to Mr X for its failure to consider his request in Spring 2021 to delay Z’s entry into reception until September 2021.
  • Pay Mr X £200 to reflect the avoidable distress, uncertainty, time and trouble this caused him.
  • This figure is a symbolic amount based on the Ombudsman’s published guidance on remedies.
  1. Within three months of the final decision the Council has agreed to:
      1. review its published admissions policy and guidance about applying for primary school, having regard to the Code and Advice; and
      2. consider whether any changes should be made to include information about:
  • the right of parents of summer born children to request to delay their child’s entry into reception until the academic year following their fifth birthday; and
  • the Council’s process and timescales for considering these requests.
  1. The Ombudsman will need to see evidence these actions have been completed.

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Final decision

  1. I have found fault by the Council, causing injustice. I have completed my investigation on the basis the Council will take the above action as a suitable way to remedy the injustice.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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