The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mrs X complained that the Council incorrectly applied the admissions criteria to her application for a place for her daughter at her preferred primary school. She also says the Appeal Panel failed to give due weight her arguments when deciding to refuse her appeal. We found no fault in the way the Council applied the admissions criteria or in the way the Appeal Panel considered Mrs X’s appeal.
- Mrs X complains that the Council, as admissions authority, incorrectly applied the admissions criteria to her application for a place for her daughter in Reception at her preferred primary school. She also says the Appeal Panel failed to give due weight to her arguments when reaching its decision to refuse her appeal.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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 an appeal panel’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)
- If we are satisfied with an organisation’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)
How I considered this complaint
- I have considered:
- Mrs X’s comments;
- the information presented to the appeal panel, the clerk’s notes of the appeal hearing and the decision letter following the appeal; and
- the current School Admissions Code and School Admission Appeals Code.
What I found
- The primary school is a community school. The Council is the admission authority and is responsible for admissions and appeals. The admissions authority has to publish its admission arrangements including the way it determines priority if there are too many applications for the available places.
- It is a matter for the admissions authority to determine what the priority criteria are. It is free to set whatever criteria it likes, provided these are lawful and that it gives proper consideration to Government guidance.
- When considering applications for admission, the Council must work on the basis of the published admission arrangements.
- The Council applied the following criteria to allocate the places available:
- looked after children
- children with an exceptional medical, social or other need which the school is particularly able to meet;
- children with a sibling already at the school;
- children of teaching staff of the school where the member of staff has been employed at the school for two or more years;
- children living within the individual school’s defined area, with priority given to those who live closest to the school when measuring distance in a straight line;
- children living outside the individual school’s defined area, with priority given to those who live closest to the school.
- Independent school admission appeals 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. Appeals under these rules are known as “infant class size” (ICS) appeals. Panels can only uphold these appeals in limited circumstances.
- The Appeals Code says that, in an ICS appeal, the panel must consider whether:
- admitting another child would breach the infant class size limit;
- the admission arrangements comply with the law;
- the admission arrangements were properly applied to the case; and
- the decision to refuse a place was one which a reasonable authority would have made in the circumstances.
- I have completed my investigation on the basis that there is no evidence of fault in the way the Council applied the admissions criteria or in the way the Appeal Panel considered Mrs X’s appeal.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman