Decision : Closed after initial enquiries
Decision date : 08 Jun 2022
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: We will not investigate this complaint about how the Council dealt with a school admissions matter. This is because there is not enough evidence of fault by the Council. Also, we cannot achieve the outcome the complainant wants.
- The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mr X, complains the Council offered his son (Y) a school place, without his permission. Mr X says Y’s mother applied for the place without his knowledge. Mr X wanted Y to attend a school close to his home. He had made his own application to his local council. Mr X says the place was lost because of the Council’s actions. Mr X wants the Council to withdraw the place offered and to help transfer Y to his preferred school.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- The Ombudsman investigates complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’, which we call ‘fault’. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint, which we call ‘injustice’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We do not start or may decide not to continue with an investigation if we decide:
- there is not enough evidence of fault to justify investigating, or
- we could not add to any previous investigation by the organisation, or
- further investigation would not lead to a different outcome, or
- we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants, or
- there is another body better placed to consider this complaint. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6))
- The law says we cannot normally investigate a complaint when someone could take the matter to court. However, we may decide to investigate if we consider it would be unreasonable to expect the person to go to court. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6)(c), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I considered information provided by the complainant and the Council.
- I considered the Ombudsman’s Assessment Code.
What I found
- In its response to Mr X’s complaint the Council said:
- Y’s mother, who lives in the Council’s area, applied for a September 2021 school place in October 2020. The application did not name Mr X. The Council offered a place in April 2021 when all primary offers were made.
- In August 2021, Y’s mother told the Council Y did not need a school place as he would be living with Mr X in another council’s area.
- In August 2021, Y’s mother again contacted the Council. She said there had been a change of plans and asked for a school place. The Council offered a place on 01 September 2021.
- Mr X contacted the Council on 02 September and said Y would be living with him.
- When there is a dispute between parents, the Councill’s policy is not to offer a school place until both parents agree. But in Y’s case, the Council offered a place before it knew about the dispute. The Council had therefore acted in good faith.
- The Council did not know of the application Mr X had made to his own local council – and vice versa.
- The Council considered the disagreement between Mr X and Y’s mother for the courts.
- Those with parental responsibility can apply for a school place. There is no requirement for councils to obtain consent from both parents before they process an application. But councils should have a policy which explains what will happen if there is a dispute.
- In this case, the Council’s policy is not to process an application until it has resolved any disputes. But as the Council explained, it was not aware of a dispute until it had offered a place. It was not therefore fault to offer the place.
- Once a school place has been offered, it can only be withdrawn in certain circumstances. For example, if obtained by a fraudulent application or if offered in error. The Council did not feel this applied.
- Based on the evidence I have seen there is not enough evidence of fault by the Council to warrant us investigating. It is unlikely we would criticise the Council if we did investigate.
- Also, we have no powers to say the school place offered should be withdrawn, or that Y should transfer to another school. The School Admissions Code states a place must not be withdrawn once a child has started at a school unless the place was fraudulently obtained. Even then, the length of time the child has been at school must be taken into account. Y has been at school for almost a whole academic year.
- We cannot therefore achieve the outcome Mr X wants. A court could, however, make a decision about which school Y should attend. It is reasonable for Mr X to pursue the matter this way as it can give Mr X the outcome he wants. The Ombudsman cannot.
- For the reasons set out above we will not investigate.
- We will not investigate Mr X’s complaint because there is not enough evidence of fault and we cannot achieve the outcome he wants.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman