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Lancashire County Council (21 007 180)

Category : Education > School admissions

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 14 Sep 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr X’s complaint about an unsuccessful appeal for a school place. This is because there is not enough evidence of fault by the panel, and so we cannot question the merits of its decision.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mr X, complains about an unsuccessful appeal for a school place for his 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 an opportunity to comment on a draft statement and considered any comments received.

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My assessment

  1. Mr X’s son (Y) is due to start Year 7 in September 2021. Mr X applied for three schools. The Council offered a place at School C, Mr X’s third preference. Because of a change in circumstances, Mr X would now find it difficult to take Y to School C. He therefore appealed the Council’s decision not to offer a place at his second preference, School B. In his written appeal Mr X referred to:
    • The difficulties in transporting Y to School C.
    • Mr X had assumed Y would be offered his first preference school.
    • School C did not offer triple science, one of Y’s preferred subjects.
    • Mr X also has three daughters and would like them to attend the same school as Y. But School C is a boys’ school.
  2. Independent appeal panels must follow the law when considering an appeal. They need to consider if the school’s admission arrangements comply with the law, and if they were properly applied to the appellant’s application. They need to decide if admitting a further child would “prejudice the provision of efficient education or the efficient use of resources”. If they think it would, they need to consider if an appellant’s arguments outweigh the prejudice to the school.
  3. The clerk’s notes from the appeal show the Council’s representative explained why it had not offered Y a place at School B. The notes show what problems the school thought would be caused if it offered further places. In his appeal, Mr X explained why he wanted Y to attend School B, and the difficulties it would cause if he was not offered a place.
  4. The appeal papers and clerk’s notes show that:
    • Mr X and the panel could ask questions about the information presented.
    • The panel decided the school’s admission arrangements complied with the law and had been properly applied to Mr X’s application.
    • The panel decided admitting further children would cause prejudice.
    • The panel decided the evidence put forward by Mr X was not strong enough to outweigh the prejudice admitting a further child would cause the school.
  5. The clerk’s letter to Mr X explained the panel’s decision. It referred to a closer school with spaces which would address the transport issues. The panel noted Mr X’s first preference was a boys’ school, despite Mr X saying he wanted his daughters to attend the same school as Y. Science was a core subject and the fact Y wanted to study triple science did not persuade the panel it should offer a place.
  6. We are not an appeal body and we cannot criticise decisions taken without fault. The evidence I have seen shows the panel followed the proper process to consider Mr X’s appeal. The panel considered the information provided by Mr X and the Council. It was for the panel to decide what weight should be given to each piece of evidence. The decision to refuse Mr X’s appeal is one the panel was entitled to take.
  7. I understand Mr X is disappointed with the panel’s decision. But without evidence of fault in the decision-making process, there are no grounds for us to become involved.

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Final decision

  1. We will not investigate Mr X’s complaint. This is because there is not enough evidence of fault in how the panel considered Mr X’s appeal.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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