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Lincolnshire County Council (21 006 105)

Category : Education > School admissions

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 26 Nov 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mrs M complains the Council refused her request for her summer-born daughter, G, to be admitted to reception rather than year one when she starts school in September 2022. There is no fault in the way the Council made its decision. We cannot question properly made decisions.

The complaint

  1. Mrs M complains the Council refused her request for her daughter, G, to be admitted to reception rather than year one when she starts school in September 2022. Mrs M does not believe the Council considered her request properly.

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What I have investigated

  1. I considered how the Council made its decision. I do not decide whether Mrs M’s daughter should be admitted to reception or year one. This is the Council’s job.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints of injustice caused by ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
  2. 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:
    • information provided by Mrs M;
    • information provided by the Council;
    • Advice on the admission of summer born children for local authorities and school admission authorities issued by the Department for Education in September 2020;
  2. I invited Mrs M and the Council to comment on my draft decision and considered their comments.

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What I found

The admission of summer born children

  1. ‘Summer born children’ are children born between 1 April and 31 August. These children are not required to start school until the September following their fifth birthday. Ordinarily, they would then start school in year 1 with their ‘chronological year group’.
  2. Parents can request their summer born children are admitted to a reception class in the September following their fifth birthday rather than year 1. This means they are educated outside their normal age group.
  3. Parents decide when their children start school. The admission authority (in this case, the Council) decides whether they start in reception or year 1.
  4. The Government has issued guidance for admission authorities deciding which year group a child should be admitted to.
  5. The admission authority must:
    • make decisions in the best interests of the child; and
    • take account of the child’s individual needs and abilities and consider whether these can best be met in reception or year one; and
    • take account of the potential impact on the child of being admitted to year one without first having completed the reception year.
  6. The guidance says, “In effect, this means that the authority is making a decision about whether it would be in the child’s best interest to miss the reception year.”
  7. The guidance says it is reasonable to expect parents to provide information to support their request, but they are not expected to obtain professional evidence they do not already have.
  8. There is no prescribed process admission authorities must follow when considering requests, although the guidance notes some authorities use decision making panels to consider requests, and some invite parents to attend panel meetings.
  9. The admission authority must, however, give reasons for its decision.

Mrs M’s request

  1. Mrs M’s daughter, G, is a summer born child. Mrs M decided G will not start school until September 2022, the September following her fifth birthday. She asked the Council to admit G to reception, not year 1.
  2. The head teacher and a panel of governors at Mrs M’s preferred school considered her request on 14 May 2021. They did not agree. The Council wrote to explain their decision on 21 May.
  3. Mrs M challenged the decision. She pointed out the school is a community school and the Council is the admission authority. The Council should have considered Mrs M’s request, not the governors.
  4. A panel of Council officers considered Mrs M’s request on 22 May. They, too, did not agree. The Council wrote to Mrs M on 24 June to explain the panel’s decision.
  5. On 25 June, Mrs M wrote to the Council to complain about its handling of her request and its decision G should start school in year 1 in September 2022. Unhappy with the Council’s response, Mrs M complained to the Ombudsman.
  6. Mrs M raised a number of concerns about the Council’s decision. She said:
    • G’s date of birth is recorded incorrectly in the minutes of the meetings as being in June and not July;
    • concerns about G’s transfer to secondary education and when she will take her exams are misplaced since the Government recommends children remain outside their normal year group;
    • G will only attend pre-school for 12 hours per week next year and will be in a mixed age group with younger children. Mrs M does not accept this is comparable with being in a reception class;
    • concerns about the emotional impact on G of being the oldest child in the class as she gets older are misplaced as her birthday is likely to fall outside term time;
    • the fact there are a large number of summer-born children in G’s cohort, and G will not be the youngest, is irrelevant.

Consideration

  1. The Council must decide whether it will be in G’s best interests to join a reception class or to miss the reception year entirely and join year 1 when she starts school aged five in September 2022.
  2. I do not take a view on the merits of Mrs M’s request. My job is to check the Council made its decision properly.
  3. The Council sent Mrs M the minutes of the governors meeting and panel meeting which considered her request. While I appreciate Mrs M does not agree, I am satisfied the minutes demonstrate the Council has properly considered her request.
  4. The minutes are clearly structured with headings that show the governors and the panel systematically considered the evidence and applied themselves to the relevant questions.
  5. The Council has taken account of the views of the head teacher and the reasons Mrs M wants G to start school in reception in September 2022.
  6. It is true the minutes incorrectly record G’s date of birth, and current advice from the Government says that G’s transfer to secondary education should not be a problem. However, I do not consider these points call the Council’s decision into question.
  7. The panel has balanced a range of relevant factors, including G’s needs and abilities, and reached a decision it will be in her best interests to start school in year 1 in September 2022. There is no fault in the way the Council reached its decision. The Ombudsman cannot question properly made decisions.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation. There is no fault in the way the Council made its decision to decline Mrs M’s request for her daughter to start school in reception in September 2022. The Ombudsman cannot question properly made decisions.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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