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Derbyshire County Council (21 005 242)

Category : Education > School admissions

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 01 Dec 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: there is no fault in the appeal panel’s decision not to admit Mrs M’s son, B, to the school. The Ombudsman cannot question decisions taken without fault.

The complaint

  1. Mrs M complains following her unsuccessful appeal for a place for her son, B, at a primary school. In particular, Mrs M complains that children with less priority were given places at the school. She says she will have to remove B’s sister from the school if he is not admitted, and she does not think this is reasonable.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. The Ombudsman investigates complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. The Ombudsman cannot question a school admission appeal panel’s decision simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider if there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3))
  2. We check the Independent Appeal Panel followed the Code of Practice issued by the Department for Education and the hearing was fair.  We do this by examining the notes taken by the Clerk during the hearing.  We do not have the power to overturn the Panel’s decision, and we cannot give a child a place at the school. If we find fault, which calls the panel’s decision into question, we may ask for a new appeal hearing.
  3. 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 have considered:
    • Mrs M’s comments;
    • all the information presented to the Appeal Panel, the notes taken by the Clerk during the appeal, and the Panel’s decision letter following the appeal; and
    • the School Admissions Appeals Code 2012.
  2. I invited Mrs M and the Council to comment on my draft decision.

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What I found

  1. The school is a voluntary controlled school. The Local Authority is the admission authority and is responsible for admissions and appeals.
  2. Mrs M applied for a place for her son in Reception. Her application and subsequent appeal were unsuccessful. Mrs M complained to the Ombudsman.
  3. The Ombudsman checks the appeal was carried out properly. We do not decide whether Mrs M’s son should be given a place at the school.
  4. The School Admission Appeals Code 2012 issued by the Department for Education sets out the process the Independent Appeal Panel must follow when considering an appeal.
  5. No more than 30 children can be taught by a single teacher in an infant class (Reception and Years 1 and 2). If this is not possible without reorganisation or employing extra staff, and this would harm the education of other pupils, “infant class size prejudice” rules apply to the appeal.
  6. When infant class size prejudice rules apply, the Appeal Panel can only legally uphold an appeal if:
      1. the child would have been offered a place were it not for some flaw in the admission arrangements; and/or
      2. the child would have been offered a place if the admissions arrangements had been implemented properly; and/or
      3. the decision to refuse a place was one which no reasonable authority would have made.
  7. The threshold for appeals made under c. above is extremely high. The Panel cannot legally uphold appeals which do not fall into the categories above, no matter how persuasive the appeal otherwise is.
  8. The Panel considered whether the infant class size prejudice rules applied to Mrs M’s appeal. B’s admission would result in a class of 31 in two years time. The Council explained in its submission to the Panel that the school does not have resources to fund the extra teacher that would be necessary. The Panel decided, therefore, that infant class size prejudice rules apply to Mrs M’s appeal. There is no fault in the Panel’s decision.
  9. The Panel also considered whether the admission arrangements complied with the law and decided they did.
  10. The Panel then considered whether the Council had correctly applied the admission criteria to the application. Mrs M’s application was unsuccessful because it was late. All the places were allocated to on-time applicants. The Panel decided that Council had correctly applied the admission criteria.
  11. Finally, the Panel had to consider whether the decision to refuse Mrs M’s son a place was one which a reasonable admission authority would have made in the circumstances of the case.
  12. The Clerk’s notes and the decision letter record Mrs M’s discussions with the Panel at the hearing. I can see from the Clerk’s notes that Mrs M explained why her application was late. She described how well B had settled in the nursery at the school and the progress he was making, the logistical problems of taking two children to two different schools, and the unreasonable impact on her older child if she had to move her to a different school.
  13. These are not factors the Panel can take into account when considering whether a reasonable admission authority would refuse Mrs M’s application. A reasonable admission authority can only admit children in accordance with the published admission criteria. The Panel was satisfied Mrs M’s application was considered in accordance with the published admission criteria. The Panel could not, therefore, uphold Mrs M’s appeal.
  14. Mrs M is right that children with less priority than B were admitted to the school. This is because Mrs M’s application was late, and late applications are considered last. All the places were allocated to children of parents who applied on time, including those with less priority than B. There was no fault by the Councill. Had Mrs M applied on time, it is likely B would have been allocated a place as his sister already attends the school.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation. There is no fault in the appeal. The Ombudsman cannot question decisions taken without fault.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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