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School admissions should be judged on fair grounds

School admissions should be judged on fair, clear and objective criteria that would stand up to independent scrutiny, the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) says.

Admissions should not be judged on subjective responses to questionnaires, where responses cannot be impartially assessed, as was the case in a complaint the LGO received about a Slough primary school.

A grandfather told the LGO Khalsa VA Primary School in the town did not properly consider medical evidence put forward by his daughter during an appeal hearing for his grandson.

The investigation found the appeal panel was not at fault on this, but during the course of the investigation the LGO became concerned about the way the school used a religious questionnaire to determine the allocation of places.

The admission arrangements made it clear the applicant’s commitment to the Sikh faith was used to rank places. Applicants had to submit a supplementary questionnaire in addition to the common form. The school’s Trust then marked each questionnaire and awarded a score. Those with a higher score were given a higher priority for a place.

The grandson was not allocated a place because all places were allocated to children with higher scores.

The form asked applicants to describe how they uphold and promote the Sikh ethos in their home life and how their child would benefit from attending the school. It is not clear how the Trust marks these questions because the answers are not measurable and cannot be objectively assessed.

In addition, another question allocated marks based on how the child’s family would participate in religious school functions; implying admission was conditional on the family’s participation, something prohibited by the School Admissions Code.

The LGO found that during the appeal process, the panel could show no evidence it explored the admission arrangements in any detail and there is no evidence the panel considered whether the school’s arrangements were lawful or had been applied properly.

The investigation found it was not possible to conclude whether the outcome of the grandson’s appeal would have been different had the panel considered everything it should have done. The family has been left with the uncertainty that the boy might have been allocated a place had the panel considered the appeal properly.

Dr Jane Martin, Local Government Ombudsman, said:

“Section 14 of the School Admissions Code states clearly that the criteria used to allocate school places must be fair, clear and objective.

“It is unfair for schools to use arbitrary questionnaires to determine places, where it is unclear how they could be marked.

“I have now asked the Office of the Schools Adjudicator to look at the school’s current admissions criteria and call on the school to give the family a fresh appeal hearing.”

The school should share the Ombudsman’s report with any panel members hearing appeals for Khalsa Primary School until the Office for the Schools Adjudicator has concluded its considerations.

Article date: 16 June 2016