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Somerset County Council (21 006 493)

Category : Education > School admissions

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 07 Dec 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Miss V complained about a school admissions appeal hearing for her son, who I will call B. We have discontinued our investigation because Miss V has withdrawn her complaint for the reasons explained in this statement.

The complaint

  1. Miss V complained about a school admissions appeal hearing for her son, whom I will call B. She says the Council withheld important and relevant information provided by the school about its capacity to admit additional children. Miss V says this impacted on the panel’s ability to consider and weigh-up all available information in order to make a fair and robust decision.
  2. Miss V says this fault has created uncertainty because she cannot be sure the panel made the correct decision in B’s case.

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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)
  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. During my investigation I discussed the complaint with Miss V and made enquiries of the Council to obtain the appeal paperwork, including Miss V’s submissions, the Clerk’s notes and the Council’s refusal letter.
  2. I consulted the relevant law and guidance around school admissions and school admission appeals, which I have cited where relevant in this statement.
  3. I put my provisional findings in a draft decision and gave the Council and Miss V the opportunity to comment before making a final decision. Miss V responded to our draft decision and explained that she wished to withdraw her complaint.

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What I found

What should happen

School Admissions and School Admissions Appeal Code

  1. The Department for Education issues statutory guidance about school admissions and appeals in ‘The School Admissions Code’ and ‘The School Admission Appeals Code’. Admission authorities and appeal panels have a statutory duty to comply with these Codes. Where the Codes impose compulsory requirements, or refer to requirements in legislation, they use the words “must” or “must not”.
  2. The School Admissions Code 2014, issued under Section 84 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, was the relevant Code in force for September 2021 admissions. This Code sets out the duties of admissions authorities. The School Admission Appeals Code 2012, issued under the same Section of the Act, sets out the duties of appeal panels.
  3. Paragraph 2.9 of the School Admission Appeal Code 2012 states:

“The admission authority must supply the clerk to the appeal panel with all relevant documents needed to conduct the hearing in a fair and transparent manner and in accordance with the specified timetable. This must include details of how the admission arrangements and the co-ordinated admissions scheme apply to the appellant’s application, the reasons for the decision to refuse admission and an explanation as to how admission of an additional child would cause prejudice to the provision of efficient education or efficient use of resources”

  1. Paragraph 2.13 goes on to say:

“Panels must not allow representatives of schools to support individual appeals for places at their school at the hearing itself, or by providing letters of support for appellants. Such support could create conflicts of interest and unfairness to other appellants”

Appeal hearings

  1. Independent appeal panels must follow the law when considering an appeal. The law says the panel must consider whether:
    • the admission arrangements comply with the law;
    • the admission arrangements were properly applied to the case.
  2. The panel must then consider whether admitting another child would prejudice the education of others. If the panel finds there would be prejudice it must then consider each appellant’s individual arguments at the second stage of the appeal hearing. If the panel decides the appellant’s case outweighs the prejudice to the school, it must uphold the appeal and allocate a place to the child.
  3. Government guidance ‘Advice for Admission Authorities on School Admission Appeals’ says:

“You must supply the panel with all it needs to conduct the hearing in a fair and transparent manner. This includes supplying the clerk with all the relevant documents needed to conduct the hearing, within the timescales set out, including:

    • details of the school’s admission arrangements
    • how the admission arrangements and the coordinated admissions scheme were applied to the child in question
    • the reasons for the decision to refuse admission
    • an explanation as to how the admission of an additional child would cause prejudice to the provision of efficient education or efficient use of resources”

What happened

  1. Miss V made an on-time application to the Council for her son, whom I will call B, to start reception in September 2021 at a local school. I will refer to it as ‘the school’. The school is not B’s catchment school, and he does not have a sibling currently in attendance.
  2. The school’s published admission number (PAN) is 12. The Council, who is the admissions authority for the school, received 38 preferences for the school. Due to there being more applications than places available, the Council allocated places in accordance with the over-subscription criteria. Those who were not offered places were put onto the school’s waiting list and given the right to appeal.
  3. The Council, in agreement with the school, decided to offer six places over the PAN. This is because both the Council and the school agreed it was necessary to admit all applicants who lived within the catchment area.
  4. Miss V’s application was not successful because the Council could not offer places to any children outside of the school’s catchment. The Council instead offered Miss V a place at B’s catchment school. In total, six families applied to appeal for the school.
  5. Miss V complained to the LGSCO because she said the Council withheld important and relevant information submitted by the school about its capacity.

Was there fault by the Council causing injustice to Miss V and B?

  1. We have not made a finding on Miss V’s complaint because she has asked the LGSCO to discontinue our investigation. In our draft decision we asked the Council to hold a fresh appeal for B. Miss V says she does not wish to attend another appeal for B and that he has settled at his current school.
  2. On this basis we have agreed to discontinue our investigation and issue a final decision statement.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman has discontinued our investigation following Miss V’s request to withdraw her complaint for the reasons explained in this final decision statement.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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