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East Sussex County Council (21 005 084)

Category : Education > School admissions

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 03 Aug 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Miss X’s complaint about an unsuccessful appeal for a school place. This is because there is not enough evidence of fault and so we cannot question the merits of the panel’s decision.

The complaint

  1. Miss X complains about an unsuccessful school admission appeal for her daughter.

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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 information provided by the complainant and the Council.
  2. I considered the Ombudsman’s Assessment Code.
  3. I sent the complainant a draft decision and considered the comments received.

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My assessment

  1. Miss X applied for her daughter (Y) to start School Z in September 2021. Miss X already has a child at the school. Because there were more applications than places available, the Council used the school’s oversubscription criteria to decide which children it would offer a place. The Council did not offer Y a place. Miss X appealed the decision.
  2. Independent school admission 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. There are special rules governing appeals for reception and years 1 and 2, where admitting another child would mean there would be more than 30 pupils per teacher. 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 ‘unreasonable’ is a high test, and for it to be met, the panel would need to be sure the decision to refuse a place was “perverse” or “outrageous”. For that reason, panels rarely find an admission authority’s decision to be unreasonable. Miss X’s appeal for a place was governed by infant class size legislation.
  4. The Ombudsman is not an appeal body and we cannot question decisions taken without fault. Appeal panels must consider the information they are presented with – but it is for the panel to decide what weight it will give to the evidence it hears.
  5. The clerk’s notes from the hearing show the Councils representative explained the admissions process and why it had not offered Y a place. In her appeal Miss X explained why she wanted Y to attend the school and the difficulties it would cause if Y did not attend the school.
  6. The clerk’s notes show the panel considered the points set out in paragraph 7. It decided the school’s admission arrangements had been properly determined and applied. It decided it was not an unreasonable decision to refuse admission. The clerk’s notes and the panel’s decision letter refer to the information Miss X put forward as part of her appeal. The panel decided that none of the grounds for allowing an infant class size appeal had been met. This is a decision the panel was entitled to reach. The clerk’s letter explained the panel’s decision.
  7. I understand Miss X is unhappy her appeal was unsuccessful. But each panel needs to reach a decision based on the information before it. There is not enough evidence of fault in how the panel decided Miss X’s appeal for the Ombudsman to become involved. An investigation is not therefore appropriate.

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Final decision

  1. We will not investigate Miss X’s complaint. This is because there is not enough evidence of fault by the panel and so we cannot question the merits of its decision.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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