The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Ms U says the Council failed to properly consider her application for home-to-school transport for her daughter. There is no evidence of Council fault.
- The complainant, whom I shall call Ms U, says the Council did not properly consider her school transport application for her daughter V. She says V qualified for free school transport and this should have been understood by the Council.
What I have investigated
- Although this is a complaint about school transport, this is entirely linked to school admission and the school chosen by the parent. In order to identify whether there was fault in the Council’s consideration of school transport; I must consider whether W was entitled to school transport in light of the school chosen by the parent.
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 a council’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 a council’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 considered information sent to me by the Council and by Ms U. I accessed the Council’s online school admissions and transport information. I sent Ms U and the Council a copy of my draft decision and took their comments into account before issuing my decision.
What I found
- The Council’s admission documentation says that parents ‘won’t be able to apply for free school travel assistance if your child goes to a school more than the ‘qualifying distance’ from your home because that is the school you want, even though your child could have gone to school within that distance’.
- For families on a low income, the Council says children must be ‘attending one of the 3 nearest schools to their home address where they live more than 2 miles but less than 6 miles from that school’. The ‘qualifying distance’ for families on a low income is, then, 2 miles. Ms U could have applied to one of the 3 nearest schools to their home address’ but, if she had done so, and V had been offered a place, she would not have needed to travel more than 2 miles. She would not have received school transport.
- The other way a child can get free transport, in accordance with the relevant statutory guidance, is if they attend ‘the nearest school preferred by reasons of a parent’s religion or beliefs where they live more than 2 miles but not more than fifteen miles away from that school’. This does not apply to V as Ms U did not apply to a religious school.
- Ms U made an on-time application in October 2016 for V to start secondary school in September 2017. From the information I have, all the schools she chose were selective schools; two were outside the Council’s area. None were within 2 miles of her home although the Council says there are 4 schools within that limit.
- Parents are told in the admission information that they will receive one offer on Offer Day, which is 1 March. Ms U received an offer for a school that was not on her preference form. None of the selective schools made an offer. A Council must offer a school place to a child and it did so in this case. There is no fault.
- The school offered was the nearest one to Ms U’s home address.
- Ms U did not want V to attend that school so she declined the offer. On 1 March she asked the Council to place V on the waiting lists of 3 other schools. None of these schools were under 2 miles from her home address and all were oversubscribed; they were likely to have a number of children on their waiting lists already.
- Ms U said she had difficulty finding a school she liked that was not full. She found one 13.3 miles away in another council’s area. She wanted the Council to provide V with transport because the other schools nearer to her home were now full.
- Ms U did not apply for any of the schools within 2 miles of her home address when she had an opportunity in October 2016. This was her choice. Applying for schools after that date makes them ‘late applications’. At that point, schools are likely to be full. The last pupil admitted in the previous year, in the other 3 schools closest to her home address, lived further away than V did. On the balance of probabilities, then, had Ms U applied on time, V could have been given a place at a school within a two mile distance of her home. The Council also offered a place at a closer school, which Ms U turned down.
- V is not entitled to school transport just because the nearer schools were full by the time Ms U wanted a place. It was Ms U’s choice not to apply for a nearer school in her original application as an option in case V was not offered a place at a selective school. Because of this, I am not considering how Ms U’s request for school transport was considered. Ms U is able to apply to other schools nearer to her home address if she wishes to. If they are full, and V is turned down for a place, Ms U can exercise her right of appeal.
- There is no evidence of Council fault.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman