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Sale High School (21 011 260)

Category : Education > School admissions

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 21 Jun 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr B complains about the way an independent school admissions appeal panel considered his appeal. He says the School did not properly explain why the admission of his child would cause prejudice to the school and the panel did not consider supporting information about the impact on his child. He says his child now attends a school that is harder to get to and this impacts negatively on their attendance. The Ombudsman finds fault in how the panel considered the appeal.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I refer to as Mr B, complains the panel did not properly consider his appeal against the school’s refusal to admit his child, Y. He says the school did not explain why the points it raised would significantly prejudice the provision of education at the school. He also says the panel did not take into account evidence he provided from children’s services about the impact on Y.

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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 an organisation’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 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered the information Mr B provided and spoke to him about the complaint. I also considered information the School provided as part of our initial enquiries. I sent a copy of my draft decision to Mr B and the School before making a final decision.

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What I found

Law and Guidance

  1. A school’s admission arrangements must contain a Published Admission Number (“PAN”). This is the number of places the school will offer at each point of entry. The point of entry is when the school normally admits children. For secondary schools this is usually Year 7.
  2. Statutory guidance about school admissions and appeals can be found in The School Admissions Code and School Admission Appeals Code. Both are published by the Department for Education.
  3. Parents/carers have the right to appeal an admission authority’s decision not to offer their child a school place.
  4. Panels must follow a two-stage decision making process.
    • Stage 1: the panel examines the decision to refuse admission. The panel must consider whether:
      1. the admissions arrangements complied with the mandatory requirements set out in the School Admissions Code;
      2. the admission arrangements were applied correctly; and if
      3. the admission of additional children would prejudice the provision of efficient education or the efficient use of resources.

If a panel decides that admitting further children would “prejudice the provision of efficient education or the efficient use of resources” they move to the second stage of the process.

    • Stage 2: balancing the arguments. The panel must balance the prejudice to the school against the appellant’s case for the child to be admitted. The Appeal Code says the panel must take into account the School’s PAN. However, it must be able to demonstrate prejudice over and above the fact the PAN was already reached. The panel may consider the following factors:
      1. what effect an additional admission would have on the school in the current and following academic years as the year group moves through the school
      2. whether any changes have been made to the school’s physical accommodation or organisation since an admission number was originally set for the relevant year group
      3. the impact of the locally agreed Fair Access Protocol
      4. the impact on the organisation and size of classes, the availability of teaching staff, and the effect on children already at the school.
  1. Appeal panels must either uphold or dismiss an appeal and must not uphold an appeal subject to any conditions. Appeals must be decided by a simple majority of votes cast. A panel’s decision that a child shall be admitted to a school is binding on the admission authority concerned.
  2. The clerk must take an accurate record of the hearing, including the proceedings, attendance, voting and reasons for decisions. The appeal panel must write to the appellant, the admission authority and the council with its decision and the reasons for it.

Background

  1. Mr B has four children, including his own and foster children. Two of the children have special education needs. A supporting statement from children’s services says Y is the only child who does not have any significant concerns or additional needs. Y is in year 7 in the 2021/22 academic year.
  2. In 2021 Mr B moved away from the area he previously lived as one of the children could no longer live there. He applied for a place at the School. It was at the start of term in September 2021 but was treated as an in-year application it was after the normal admission round was completed.
  3. The School had a PAN of 210 for year 7. It had already admitted 210 students to that year. The School declined Mr B’s application on the basis admission of another child would cause prejudice to the provision of education at the School.
  4. Mr B appealed the School’s decision. He said the School was the only viable option. He said the family was working with children’s services and it was important that Y got back into education. He provided an email from children’s services as supporting evidence. The email highlighted that there was a lot going on for the family and Y was the only child without additional needs. It said Y would benefit from having a school place to give her time away from home and to settle in the local area. It supported Y’s application to the School.
  5. The panel heard Mr B’s appeal in October 2021. The School’s case set out the following reasons for why it considered the admission would cause prejudice:
    • Teaching groups in year 7 were full to capacity and would place the health and safety of students and staff at risk to admit more
    • Guidance from design and technology classes were to have a maximum of 20 students per class and it currently had 23 in most classes
    • PE and science groups were above the recommended number of 24 students. Science classes had 30-31 students in their classes.
    • 34% of existing students qualified for the pupil premium, 22% had special education needs and 19% had English as a second language. These needs were above the national average and place extra strain on already fragile resources.
    • In Year 7 there was a high level of needs, including potentially eight students with EHCPs and a further 34 on the special educational needs register.
    • There were limited resources, with a lack of table and seating space
    • The curriculum would suffer due to high numbers of students.
  6. Mr B submitted further information, based on the School’s statement. He questioned how one extra student could cause a health and safety risk. He said the class sizes were recommendations and that it was unlikely the addition of one more student would cause any significant problems. Also, that if classes already had 30-31 students, there was no reason Y could not be added to a class that had 30, to make it 31, which would be no higher than other classes. He said the School had not outlined whether it was currently struggling with the high needs of students in Year 7, or if admitting Y would affect that in any way. Also, the school as a whole was 12 students under capacity, so would have extra chairs and desks.
  7. The panel did not uphold the appeal. It’s outcome letter says at Stage 1 the panel was satisfied the admission arrangements complied with the admissions code. At Stage 2 the letter listed the arguments each side made. It said it accepted there would be prejudice to the school because it had reached its PAN and had a high level of needs in that year, which required additional support. It said it did not consider the prejudice to Y outweighed the prejudice to the School.

Findings

  1. On balance, I find fault in how the panel considered Mr B’s appeal.
  2. The decision letter listed the points the School made, and the points Mr B made. However, it did not explain how it considered those points or how it decided that based on that information the prejudice to Y did not outweigh the prejudice to the School. There is no further explanation of this in the panel’s notes.
  3. Mr B provided a clear response to the School’s points. For instance, he questioned how, when there were already classes of 30-31, an extra student in one of the classes of 30 could cause additional prejudice, or how one extra student could cause an increased health and safety risk. He pointed out that the school was overall under capacity so would have extra chairs and desks. Also that the School had not explained whether it was currently struggling with the numbers of special educational needs students. These were rational arguments against the School’s position and there is no evidence in the decision letter, or in the panel’s notes, that the panel considered these arguments. For example, there is no explanation for how the panel reached the decision that, despite Mr B’s points:
    • Admitting an extra student to a class of 30, when others already had 31, would cause more prejudice than already existed
    • The addition of an extra student in that context would increase health and safety risk
    • There were not enough chairs and desks despite the School being under capacity overall
    • The current demands of SEN students was a significant stain on the School to the point that any further students being admitted would cause prejudice
  4. These are only a few examples. There were other arguments Mr B made in response to other points by the School, and there is no evidence of how the panel considered these.
  5. The panel’s notes are very limited, but I can see they focus on the distance to the School, compared to another school, which is slightly closer. The other school being the one Y now attends. It simply says Y should be offered another school and there is not enough compelling evidence for Y to go the School, rather than any others.
  6. This suggests the panel considered Mr B had not demonstrated a significant prejudice to Y from not attending the School, as a pose to other schools. I note the supporting evidence from children’s services says Y would benefit from a school place but does not give specific reasons it should be the School. Also, that the panel noted the other school was slightly closer. However, that is not explained in the panel’s decision letter. And because there is no evidence the panel considered the arguments about what the prejudice to the School was, in taking on Y as an extra student above their PAN, I cannot find it properly weighed up the prejudice to both parties. I therefore recommend the School hold a further hearing, and set out in full how it reached its decision.
  7. Mr B says Y’s attendance is suffering as a result of having to attend a different school. I am not certain exactly why this is when that school appears to be slightly closer. However, this is something Mr B can raise in his submissions to the further appeal hearing.

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Agreed actions

  1. The School has agreed to, within a month of this decision:
    • Apologise to Mr B for the fault in the way the panel considered his appeal
    • Arrange for a new independent school admissions appeal hearing to consider Mr B’s case, following which to provide clear details of how it considered the prejudice to both parties, and how it weighed these against each other

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Final decision

  1. There was fault in the way the independent appeal panel considered Mr B’s appeal.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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