City council told to reconsider school admission appeal after Ombudsman investigation

Nottingham City Council has been told to offer a fresh schools admission hearing to a young boy who needed to move school because of ‘honour’ based violence.

The boy’s mother had applied for her son to move into Year Five at the new school, because she wanted him to attend a school that no other family members attended.

When it investigated the complaint, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found the council refused that application because the school was full. But when the mother appealed the council’s decision, the appeal panel did not follow the proper procedure and subjected her to an inappropriate line of questioning.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:

“School appeals panels are not courts of law – and parents should not be cross examined as though they are witnesses taking the stand. The level of questioning this mother had to face was not appropriate for an admissions appeal.

“It is for the panel to consider whether admitting another child to the school would have a significant effect on those pupils already in attendance, not for it to ‘prove’ someone’s case is wrong.

“Nottingham City Council now need to revisit the report I have issued, learn from it and take the actions I have recommended to remedy the situation for the family.”

The mother appealed for her son to be given a space at the city school, and provided evidence the move would be good for the boy from his current school, the police, two Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) practitioners and a consultant paediatrician.

However, during the appeal panel hearing, the mother was not given the opportunity to state her case.

Instead, an officer grilled the mother, asking her the same question many times in different ways. The chair of the panel did not step in to stop this sort of questioning, despite the mother clearly becoming distressed during the proceedings.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role is to remedy injustice and share learning from investigations to help improve public, and adult social care, services.

In this case, the council has been told to apologise to the mother and arrange a fresh Year Five appeal with a new panel, clerk and presenting officer.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve a council’s processes for the wider public. In this case the council has been told to ensure appeal personnel are properly trained and understand their legal role, including their functions as set out in the Schools Admissions Code.

Article date: 05 July 2018

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