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St. Patricks Catholic Primary School (21 005 535)

Category : Education > School admissions

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 08 Sep 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

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

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall call X, says the School’s Admissions Appeal Panel did not properly consider their appeal for a place for their child, D, at this 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 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 X and the School.
  2. I considered the Ombudsman’s Assessment Code.
  3. I considered X’s comments on a draft version of this decision.

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My assessment

Background information

  1. X applied on time for a place for their child, D, to start in September 2021 in reception. X stated three school preferences but did not state this school.
  2. All the 30 places for September 2021 in reception were allocated under the published admission criteria. The Council allocated D a place at School Y which is the closest school to their home.
  3. X decided that as they had not been allocated a school at any of the schools they asked for in their application, they would like D to attend this school as an elder sibling attends there. As the School was full with applicants who had applied for a place there, X’s application was refused. X appealed this decision to an Independent Appeal Panel.
  4. The appeal panel considered the case in June 2020 virtually. X told the Appeal Panel that they:
    • did not properly understand the application process,
    • a family member had helped with the application,
    • they had stated preferences on their application form which were convenient for extended family members to help with the school run,
    • they were now faced with two children at two different schools, they wanted them both at the same school.
  5. The Appeal Panel refused X’s appeal and they complained to us. They say it will be very difficult to get two children to two different schools.

Analysis

The appeals panel’s and Ombudsman’s role

  1. Independent 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. These are called excepted pupils.
  2. There are special rules governing appeals for Reception and Years 1 and 2. Appeals under these rules are known as “infant class size appeals”. The rules say the panel must consider whether:
  3. 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.
  4. What is ‘reasonable’ is a high test. The panel needs to be sure that to refuse a place was “perverse” or “outrageous”. For that reason panels rarely find an admission authority’s decision to be unreasonable in light of the admission arrangements.
  5. If the Panel decides the reasons for granting a place on appeal have been met, then that extra child becomes an ‘excepted’ child for the infant class size rules. It means the school can go over 30 and not breach the law.
  6. 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.

The appeal in this complaint

  1. The School clearly explained at the appeal the place had been refused because of the Infant Class Size rules. It also clearly explained what this meant.
  2. The Appeal Panel decided that admitting another child would breach the infant class limit for the school year 2021/22. There will be 30 pupils per teacher. A school can only admit more than 30 pupils per teacher if the extra pupils are classified as excepted pupils. D does not meet the criteria as an excepted pupil.
  3. The Appeal Panel considered the admission arrangements and decided they complied with the law.
  4. The Appeal Panel’s decision letter records the reasons X presented at the Appeal Panel for wanting a place. It is clear the Appeal Panel considered X’s reasons for wanting a place and decided the decision to refuse a place was one which a reasonable authority would have made in the circumstances and in light of the admission arrangements.
  5. It is unlikely we would find fault in the Appeal Panel’s decision. The information I have seen supports the Appeal Panel’s decision.

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Final decision

  1. We will not investigate this complaint. This is because it is unlikely we would find fault which has caused D to lose out on a place at this school.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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