Parents must be given clear information about their rights to present their case to Schools Admissions Appeal Panels, and panels must take their individual circumstances into account, the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) says.
Councils will already be in the process of arranging appeals panels for those parents unhappy with the school places allocated to their children on National Offers Day.
In a recent case involving Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council, one of four parents who appealed for a Reception place at a community primary school complained to the LGO that the panel refused her appeal without giving her the opportunity to put her case individually.
The mother was unhappy that she had been offered her third choice of school for her daughter, so she appealed for a place at her first choice.
The council, as standard practice, sends out letters to parents ahead of appeals proceedings which refer to parents being able to have a private hearing, but that right was not reflected clearly in its procedure documents or in the agenda provided for the appeal of the mother.
When it came to the hearing, panel members were satisfied that the admissions arrangements had been properly applied and that the council’s decision to refuse admission was reasonable, but they did not examine the individual families’ cases before refusing the appeals.
The LGO decided it was not made clear enough to parents they could have an individual hearing or that they could put forward any evidence they chose in support of their appeal. Moreover, without considering the parents’ individual cases, the panel could not have properly considered whether the decision to refuse was reasonable “in the circumstances of the case”.
Dr Jane Martin, Local Government Ombudsman said:
“Finding a school place for your children can be a worrying and difficult process. That’s why it is so important that parents can trust that their application has been considered fairly and thoroughly and that their voice is heard in any appeal.
”Access to clear information about the process and demonstrating that individual circumstances have been properly considered are two key elements to building that trust in the admissions system.
“I would now urge other admissions authorities to examine their own information and procedures to ensure parents are made aware of their full appeal rights, and to make sure that panels take individuals’ circumstances into account.”
To remedy the complaint, the council has agreed to offer a fresh appeal with a new clerk to the mother and the other three sets of parents.
In addition, the council has agreed to remind panel members and clerks that people must be given an opportunity to put their individual cases to the panel and that they are told they may put forward any evidence they may wish in support of their appeals.
The council has also agreed to remind them that panel members must consider the individual cases when considering the reasonableness of the decision to refuse a place.
It will also update its procedure documents and arrange any appropriate training.
Article date: 28 June 2016