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Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council (21 004 676)

Category : Education > School admissions

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 15 Jul 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

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

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall call Mrs X, says the Council’s Schools Admissions Appeal Panel did not properly consider her appeal for a place for her child, Z, at School Y.

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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 information provided by the Mrs X and the Council, which included the appeal papers.
  2. I considered the Ombudsman’s Assessment Code.
  3. Mrs X had an opportunity to comment on a draft version of this decision.

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My assessment

Background information

  1. Mrs X applied on time for her child, Z, to have a place at School Y from September 2021 in year seven.
  2. There were more applicants than places. The Council applied the published admissions scheme to decide who should get the places. The last place went to a child in the same admissions criteria as Mrs X but closer to the school. The Council offered Z a place at School D, which is Mrs X’s second preference.
  3. Mrs X appealed for a place at School Y. She said:
    • Z’s health issues meant this school was right for them;
    • She really liked School Y;
    • There is easy safe transport from the School Y to Z’s drop off and pick up points.
  4. An independent appeal panel considered her appeal in June 2021 by video hearing. It decided not to award her a place. Mrs X disagreed and complained to the Ombudsman.
  5. Mrs X says the appeal panel did not properly consider the key points nor did it take into account the medical evidence she supplied. She says the decision letter was one day late. She believes other parents were advised over the telephone they had been successful and she thinks this is wrong because she understands all notifications should be in writing.

Analysis

The appeal panel’s and our role

  1. Independent appeal panels must follow the law when considering an appeal. The panel must consider whether the:
    • admission arrangements comply with the law;
    • admission arrangements were properly applied to the case; and
    • admission of another child would prejudice the education of others.
  2. If the panel finds there would be prejudice the panel must then consider each appellant’s individual arguments. If the panel decides the appellant’s case outweighs the prejudice to the school, it must uphold the appeal. This means it can say a school is full but decide a child’s case is so compelling that it is more important to admit that child than prevent the effects to a school by having one more child.
  3. 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.
  4. The appeal panel’s detailed decision letter records the reasons Mrs X gave the appeal panel for wanting a place. The Clerks notes and the decision letter refer to the medical evidence she provided. It is clear the appeal panel actively considered the case.
  5. Sending a decision letter one day late does not invalidate the appeal panel’s decision and has not caused Mrs X any significant injustice.
  6. How the Council communicated the decisions to other parents has no effect on the appeal panel’s decisions.
  7. It is unlikely we would find fault in the appeal panel’s decision based on the information I have seen which supports the appeal panel’s decision which could have changed its decision.

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Final decision

  1. We 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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