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The Priory School (21 003 631)

Category : Education > School admissions

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 19 Jul 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: We will not investigate Mr 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.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mr X, complains about an unsuccessful appeal for a school place for his son.

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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 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered Mr X’s complaint to the Ombudsman and information from the school. I gave Mr X the opportunity to comment on a draft statement before reaching a final decision on his complaint.

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What I found

  1. Mr X’s son, Y, is due to start secondary school in September 2021. Mr X applied for a place at School Z. Because there were more applications than places available, the school used its oversubscription criteria to decide which children it would offer places. School Z did not offer Y a place. Mr X appealed the decision.
  2. 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 a further child 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.
  3. The clerk’s notes from the appeal show the school’s representative explained why it had not offered Y a place at School Z. The notes show what problems the school thought would be caused if it offered further places. In his appeal, Mr X explained why he wanted Y to attend School Z, and the difficulties it would cause if he was not offered a place. Mr X explained the school Y had been offered had a poor Ofsted rating and was too far away. Mr X explained it was suspected that Y had Autism Spectrum Disorder and was waiting for a referral to the Children’s Development Centre. Mr X was unhappy Y had not been considered under the criterion which gave children priority due to exceptional social or medical need (‘a Rule 2 application’).
  4. The appeal papers and clerk’s notes show that:
    • Mr X’s wife attended the appeal. Parents and the panel could ask questions about the information presented.
    • Within each of the school’s oversubscription criterion children are ranked based on distance to the school.
    • Under the school’s admission arrangements, the last child offered a place was in criterion 5 and lived 3264.44 metres from the school. Y had also been considered under criterion 5 but lived 5455.6 metres away.
    • An application for a place on exceptional social or medical need should be made with the original application unless there has been a significant change in circumstance. Mr X’s application based on social or medical need was made after School Z did not offer Y a place. The Council and panel agreed there had not been an exceptional change of circumstance and so ‘Rule 2’ did not apply.
    • The panel decided the school’s admission arrangements complied with the law and had been properly applied to Mr X’s application.
    • The panel decided admitting further children would cause prejudice.
    • The panel decided the evidence put forward by Mr X was not strong enough to outweigh the prejudice admitting a further child would cause the school.
  5. The clerk’s letter to Mr X explained the panel’s decision.
  6. We are 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 Mr X’s appeal. The panel considered the information provided by Mr X and School Z. It was for the panel to decide what weight should be given to each piece of evidence. The decision to refuse Mr X’s appeal is one the panel was entitled to take. The clerk’s letter explained the panel’s decision.
  7. I understand Miss X is disappointed with the panel’s decision. But without evidence of fault in the decision-making process, there are no grounds for us to become involved.

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Final decision

  1. We will not investigate Mr X’s complaint. This is because there is not enough evidence of fault in how the panel considered Mr X’s appeal.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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