LGO refers admission arrangements at primary to watchdog over legality

The Local Government Ombudsman is to refer a primary school’s admission arrangements to the Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) for it to consider their legality.

The referral of Khalsa VA Primary School in Slough followed an investigation into its arrangements, prompted by a complaint by a grandfather (Mr Z).

Mr Z complained that the appeal panel for the school failed to take account of information (medical evidence) his daughter (Mrx X) had submitted in support of the application for her son’s reception place at the school.

The LGO did not find fault on this point, but during the course of its investigation it found fault on matters that had come to its attention.

Article continues below...

This related to the way the school used a religious questionnaire to determine the allocation of places.

The Ombudsman noted how the admission arrangements had 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.

Mr Z’s grandson was not allocated a place because all places were allocated to children with higher scores.

The LGO said the form in question 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,” the Ombudsman said.

“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 was no evidence the panel considered whether the school’s arrangements were lawful or had been applied properly.

According to the Ombudsman, 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.”

Publishing its report, the LGO said school admissions “should be judged on fair, clear and objective criteria that would stand up to independent scrutiny”.

It added that admissions should not be judged on subjective responses to questionnaires, where responses could not be impartially assessed, “as was the case in the Khalsa VA Primary School”.

In addition to the referral to the OSA, the Ombudsman said the school should share its report with any panel members hearing appeals for Khalsa Primary School until the OSA has concluded its considerations.

The school was asked to arrange a fresh appeal for the grandson with a new panel and clerk, within one month of the date of the LGO report.

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.”

(c) HB Editorial Services Ltd 2009-2020