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Tuesday, 06 October 2020 20:16

Complaints to the EFA and Ombudsman about School Admission Appeals

It is three years since I last published an article on this subject. It began: I am regularly asked regarding possible complaints about Admission Appeals to academies and Free Schools, and respond that it is rare such complaints succeed.

That view remains and is also true of the Ombudsman complaints procedure for maintained schools. Last year I attempted Freedom of Information Requests to update the figures for Academy complaints, but these were rejected on the grounds that the Department for Education/ Education Funding Agency did not hold the data in the correct form and it was too difficult to extract. However, I tried again last month for the national data and have now received it without difficulty as reproduced below, showing a decrease from 234 complaints in 2016-17 to 104 last year. As a result, I have now applied fo the Kent and Medway data and will report back on these if and when I receive the results. Whilst the success rate has risen significantly from six successes and none in Kent or Medway,  it is still very low, with just nine cases nationally found to have seen maladministration that may have led to injustice. The norm after such outcomes is for the DfE to order a re-hearing, which may, of course, result in the same outcome, but will certainly use up considerable time in a child's education.

With the increased academisation of secondary schools, the work of the ombudsman has decreased sharply in this area, and there were just six complaints in Kent last year, all following failed appeals to grammar schools, and all unsuccessful, explored further below. There were no complaints in Medway.

Complaints to the DfE/ESFA about Admission Appeals to Academies and Free Schools 1st August 2019 to 31st July 2020
1) How many complaints have been made about maladministration of appeals to academies and Free Schools for admission 104
2) For how many complaints was there maladministration that the EFA/ESFA considers may have caused injustice? 9
3) For how many complaints was there maladministration that the EFA/ESFA does not consider to have caused an injustice? 13
4) For how many complaints was there no maladministration? 76
5) How many complaints are outstanding? 6

 Many of the 76 complaints where there was no maladministration will have been where complainants simply disagreed with the decision and it is not part of the process to look at the background as to why a particular decision was reached. Rather, complaints are looked at with regard to whether the process has followed the laid down rules for school appeals, set out in the Code of Practice. If not, then there is maladministration. The adjudicator then has to decide if that maladministration might have led directly to a different decision being reached, which is regarded as possible injustice when the complaint is upheld. In my experience, complaints about academies are now considered quite promptly, with just six nationally outstanding for September 2020 admissions. 

By a curious coincidence, these figures are almost identical to those from 2011, when there were far fewer academies to give rise to complaints to the equivalent body. 

Ombudsman Cases (1st September 2019 – 31st August 2020)
Each of the six cases outlined relates to one of the nine Kent grammar schools that remain under the control of KCC. Three of these relate to admission for September 2019, illustrating the potential delays in the Ombudsman process. One (186) will have been about an oversubscription decision and was resolved when the child was offered a place.

Two cases (063 and 118) were rejected after initial enquiries, and confirm the fact that there is no right of appeal against a Headteacher Assessment. Any challenge has to be through the normal process of appeal against not offering a place at a specific school in March.

Case number 145 relates to the Council’s alleged failure to make proper provision for a child’s special educational needs at the Kent Test itself. This is dismissed on the basis that a subsequent admission appeal is the place to examine whether there was injustice.

Case number 784 upholds the complaint, criticising the Panel’s failure to keep proper notes or to explain its decision, but concludes these did not affect the decision not to offer the child a place at the school in question.

Case number 268 simply records that ‘Mrs X complains the admissions appeals panel did not properly consider her son's appeal for a grammar school place. From the evidence seen, the Ombudsman does not find fault in how the admissions appeals panel considered the appeal.’

My final Ombudsman case was over a complicated sixth form admission case, featured in the Kent Messenger in 2017, and found fault with Maidstone Girls Grammar School’s Sixth Form admission process, in that like too many other local grammar schools it unlawfully used a provisional offer process not in the school’s published criteria. There was no injustice as the student concerned was so disgusted with the school’s attitude he took up a place elsewhere and so was not deprived of a place. 

Other Educational Ombudsman Cases
The Ombudsman also considered 15 complaints relating to Special Educational Needs, upholding nine of them, and ten School Transport complaints not upholding any of them. 

 

Last modified on Friday, 09 October 2020 07:31

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