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Norfolk County Council (21 007 071)

Category : Education > School admissions

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 10 Sep 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 son.

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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 gave the complainant the opportunity to comment on a draft decision and considered any comments received.

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My assessment

  1. Miss X’s son (Y) is due to start Reception in September 2021. Miss X applied for a place at School Z. Because there were more applications than places available at School Z, the Council used the school’s oversubscription criterion to decide which children it would offer places. It did not offer Y a place and offered an alternative school. Miss X appealed the decision not to offer Y a place at School Z.
  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 was governed by infant class size legislation.
  4. In her appeal Miss X explained why she wanted a place at School Z and the difficulties it would cause if the Council did not offer Y a place. Miss X explained she had another child who attended a nursery. It would not be possible to take them to nursery and to take Y to the school offered. Miss X had applied on time but felt the Council should have provided more information about the application process.
  5. The clerk’s notes show the panel considered information about School Z and Miss X’s written appeal. The panel decided the school’s admission arrangements were lawful and had been properly applied. The panel considered Miss X’s reasons for wanting a place. The panel decided it was not an unreasonable decision to refuse admission. 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.
  6. 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. The Ombudsman will not investigate Miss X’s complaint. This is because there is not enough evidence of fault and so we cannot question the merits of the panel’s decision.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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