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Local Government Ombudsman – School Admission Appeals Complaints

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Ombudsman Report

Earlier in the year we posted a link to a Focus Report from 2014 entitled Learning Lessons from Complaints.  The article and the details can be found here.

Although we hoped that all of those facing second appeals from the change to the 2016 admissions criteria would be successful on appeal, we know that hasn’t been the case.  From our involvement in a number of these cases, we know that the approach adopted by Nottinghamshire County Council has been far from helpful to parents.

Council enthusiastically opposed appeals

As education lawyers we struggled to make sense of a lot of what the council were saying in its response to the appeals.  We were surprised at the enthusiasm with which the opposition to the appeals was pursued.

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Nottinghamshire County Council

There was no sense at all that the council was sorry for the results of the decision to change the criteria, despite the fact that they were clearly at fault.  There was no acknowledgement of the misery that was the natural consequence of what the council had done.

Complaints to the Local Government Ombudsman

Whether or not you were successful in these appeals, it may be that you hope that no other parent undergo the appeals process that you were forced to undertake in what were even more difficult circumstances than usual.  As a result, you might want to consider whether you ought to make a complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman.  You won’t need legal assistance to complete the online form which can be found here.

Was there an ‘injustice’?

Although it will be easy to identify an ‘injustice’ if you have been unsuccessful at appeal, it is likely that different types on ‘injustice’ occurred even where the school place was awarded.

You might be able to identify some of the following problems:

  • the manner in which you were treated by the council, both in terms of the preparation and presentation of your appeal.
  • a delay in providing crucial information that prejudiced your case
  • information might not have been provided at all
  • there may have been poor communication with you
  • the council might not have investigated a relevant issue that could have helped your case
  • the information provided by the council might have been misleading, particularly if it was within a pro forma

School Admission Appeals Code

The School Admission Appeals Code from February 2012 governing appeals and points like these is very clear.  Any failures are likely to put the council in breach.

For example, Code 2.9 states that “The admission authority must supply the clerk and the appeal panel with all the relevant documents needed to conduct the hearing in a fair and transparent manner…This must include details of how the admission arrangements and the co-ordinated admissions scheme apply to the appellant’s application, the reasons for the decision to refuse admission and an explanation as to how admission of an additional child would cause prejudice to the provision of efficient education or efficient use of resources”.

This needs to be read in conjunction with Paragraph 2.21 which states that “Appeal Panels must operate according to the principles of natural justice”.  This imposes a duty to act fairly.  Additionally, 2.21.c states that “written material and evidence must have been seen by all parties”.

Paragraph 2.8 states “Admission authorities must comply with reasonable requests from parents for information which they need to help them prepare their case for appeal”.

What could the Ombudsman do?

Such complaints might be important for the future, particularly if sufficient people make complaints and the Ombudsman is forced to investigate.

The Ombudsman has several remedies open to him. These can include:

  • recommending that the council take action to avoid certain circumstances arising in the future
  • directing a school to admit a pupil
  • ordering financial compensation

Many parents will have endured the appeal process for at least 12 months now, taking part in two separate appeals.  If your appeal resulted in an injustice, then you may want to see if the Ombudsman can be made to listen.  This might not be just for yourself but also for those families that will go through the process next year and the year after that.

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