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Admissions authorities reminded about proper vacancy process

Admissions authorities across England are being urged to remind their schools about the proper process for filling places following a complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO).

A mother contacted the LGO to complain that a school, at which her child was second on the waiting list, had offered a place to another child much further down the list ahead of her son.

She said that London Borough of Lambeth, which was the admissions authority for the school, failed to manage the waiting list properly and did not deal with the information she gave its officers appropriately.

The mother applied for a school place in 2013, but none of the five schools on her preference list had a vacancy for her child. She was offered a place at another school.

In August that year, the woman moved closer to one of her preferred schools, and her son moved to second on the waiting list. The son started at the allocated school in September.

The mother heard that another child had been given a place at the preferred school, despite being twelfth on the list, and complained to Lambeth council.

Lambeth council were not made aware of the vacancy, and so were not involved in allocating the place. The council asked the school to offer a place to the woman but the school was not able to do so as it would mean it would breach the 30 pupil class-size limit.

The mother appealed in January 2014 but the appeal panel did not uphold her case.

The LGO found the council at fault for failing to administer the school’s waiting list properly and for not ensuring the preferences expressed by the mother and the parents of the child at the top of the waiting list, along with nine other children ahead of the child offered the place, were given their true weight.

Dr Jane Martin, Local Government Ombudsman, said:

“I am urging councils to remind schools of their duty to inform them of vacant places that arise so they can be administered through the proper process. The school involved in the report should not have offered the place to the child: this is the responsibility of the local authority, and it is that authority’s duty to ensure that the due process is adhered to.

“The council has been asked to offer the child at the top of the waiting list a place at the school, so the child involved in this complaint is now at the top of the list - as he would have been had the original place been allocated correctly.”

The council has agreed to take action to improve resources at the school so it can accept the child at the top of the waiting list into the correct year group.

It has also been recommended to apologise to the complainant and pay her £500 to recognise the outrage and unnecessary time and trouble she was caused in making the complaint. The council should also consider what steps it can take to ensure that proper procedures are in place and are followed in future, including writing to all schools in its area to reiterate the proper process for filling vacancies when they arise.

Article date: 18 September 2014