Cheshire East

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Ombudsman raps council over lack of clarity on school admission appeal

Councils must give parents clear information about their rights to present cases to schools admissions appeal panels, which must take their individual circumstances into account.

That advice has come from the Local Government Ombudsman, in a case involving Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council.

A parent complained that the panel had refused her appeal without giving her the opportunity to put her case.

The complainant was unhappy that her daughter had been offered her third choice of school and lodged an appeal seeking a place at her first choice.

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Letters from the council said parents would be able to have a private hearing, “but that right was not reflected clearly in its procedure documents or in the agenda provided for the appeal of the mother”, the ombudsman concluded.

Panel members supported the council’s decision but failed to examine the individual families’ cases before refusing the appeals.

The ombudsman said information about individual hearings was unclear and that since the panel had failed to consider individual cases it followed it could not have properly considered whether the decision to refuse was reasonable in the circumstances of the case.

Local Government Ombudsman Jane Martin said: ”Access to clear information about the process and demonstrating that individual circumstances have been properly considered are two key elements to building that trust in the admissions system.

“I would now urge other admissions authorities to examine their own information and procedures to ensure parents are made aware of their full appeal rights, and to make sure that panels take individuals’ circumstances into account.”

Barnsley has agreed to a fresh appeal for the complainant and three other sets of parents, with a new clerk. It will also remind panel members and clerks that opportunities must be afforded for people to put their cases.

Cllr Tim Cheetham, Cabinet Member for People at the council, said: “Following a complaint about our process for applying for a school place, the Local Government Ombudsman found that there had been fault on the part of the council. We have accepted the Ombudsman’s recommendations in full, and have taken steps to ensure that these sorts of cases do not happen again.”

Mark Smulian

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