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Hampshire County Council (22 002 758)

Category : Education > School admissions

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 13 Jun 2022

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 and so we cannot question the merits of the panel’s decision.

The complaint

  1. Mr X complained about an unsuccessful school admission appeal for his son (Y).
  2. In his complaint to the Ombudsman Mr X said he explained during the appeal Y was top of the school’s waiting list. He is worried his appeal did not succeed because the panel thought it was likely the Council would eventually offer Y a place anyway. Mr X also raised concerns about the school taking refugee children under the Council’s Fair Access Protocol. This is a process for ensuring the most vulnerable, unplaced children, are offered a school place without delay.

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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.

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My assessment

  1. Mr X moved address and now lives close to his preferred school (School Z). Mr X applied for a Year 1 place for his son (Y). Because there were no places in Year 1 the Council did not offer Y a place. Mr X appealed the decision.
  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. Mr X’s appeal for Y was governed by infant class size legislation.
  4. In his written appeal Mr X explained why he wanted Y to attend the school. Mr X explained one of Y’s siblings already attended – another would start at the nursery in September. Mr X explained the logistical issues faced by his family if Y could not attend School Z. Mr X set out the other reasons he wanted Y to attend the school.
  5. The clerk’s notes show the Council and Mr X had the chance to preset their cases. The panel considered information about the school. The panel decided the school’s admission arrangements were lawful and the Council had properly applied them. The panel considered Mr 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 Mr X is unhappy his appeal was unsuccessful. But each panel needs to reach a decision based on the information before it. The evidence I have seen shows the panel followed the proper process to consider and decide Mr X’s appeal.
  7. Paragraph 3.22 of the School Admission Appeals Code says panels must not take account of a child’s position on a waiting list. There is no evidence knowing Y’s position on the school’s waiting list affected the panel’s decision. The panel considered all the relevant tests for infant class size appeals. The clerk’s notes show that no refugee children had been admitted to Year 1 under the Council’s Fair Access Protocol.
  8. There is not enough evidence of fault in how the panel decided Mr 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 Mr 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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