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LOCAL GOVERNMENT OMBUDSMEN INVESTIGATION REPORTS ISSUED SINCE 16 FEBRUARY

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Findings of maladministration causing injustice...
Findings of maladministration causing injustice

Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames (05/B/3214)

Education admissions

'Ms Phillips' (not her real name for legal reasons) complained that faults in the Council's school admissions procedures have wrongly denied her child a place at her preferred selective secondary school, and that the independent panel convened to hear her appeal against refusal of a place failed to consider properly whether the admission arrangements were sound and applied correctly.

The Ombudsman's investigation found that the Council failed to take steps to overcome computer system failure and ensure that it co-ordinated its admission arrangements with neighbouring education authorities in accordance with the published scheme. This led to some parents receiving more than one offer of a place. When reallocating places that were not initially taken up at Ms Phillips' preferred school, it also failed to have regard to the law and relevant codes of practice in the way its 'waiting' list was constructed and implemented. As a result, Ms Phillips' child was wrongly denied a place at the school. There was unacceptable delay in the Council's responses to the Ombudsman's investigation.

The Ombudsman found no fault in the independent panel's handling of Ms Phillips' appeal.

The Ombudsman finds maladministration causing injustice and recommends that the Council offers Ms Phillips a place for her child at her preferred school, pays her£500 to recognise the impact of its actions, including delay, and reviews its admission arrangements as a matter of urgency to avoid a recurrence of the maladministration in the next and subsequent rounds of admissions.

London Borough of Barnet (03/A/8718)

Housing grants

'Mr Adam' (not his real name for legal reasons) suffers from focal foot dystonia. His left foot has twisted at the ankle so that his foot is at right angles to his leg. He also suffers from osteoporosis of the spine and will probably have to use a wheelchair in his home as his condition deteriorates. He was living in a two-storey house with a stairlift and had difficulty in accessing the upstairs shower and bath.

He complains that the Council failed to consider his application for a disabled facilities grant properly. He says that, if he had been told at the outset that his application was likely to be turned down, he would have moved much sooner. He moved within six months of the Council's refusal to fund the extension.

The Ombudsman found maladministration in that the Council:

--failed to advise Mr Adam about its policy not normally to approve extensions and failed to consider his need for an extension when the occupational therapist first proposed one;

--failed to ensure that there was adequate liaison between officers in the processing of the application and, as a result, unreasonably raised Mr Adam's expectations that a grant for an extension would be approved; and

--failed to record the discussion when the Cabinet Member considered the application, and to record promptly the reasons for the decision and to share these with Mr Adam.

To remedy the injustice the Ombudsman recommends that the Council:

--pays Mr Adam compensation of£2,650 for having lived in unsuitable accommodation for about two years longer than necessary, for part of his moving costs and his time and trouble in pursuing his complaint; and

--ensures that decisions made at Cabinet Member level on grant applications are properly recorded, and a list of reasons for refusal noted and given to the applicant once the decision is made.

Islamia School (Brondesbury Park) (04/A/15454 & 17998)

Education admissions

Since Autumn 2005, The Local Government Ombudsman, Tony Redmond, has criticised Catholic, Sikh and non-denominational Christian schools over their admission arrangements*. He has now issued a report on two complaints against The Governors of Islamia School (Brondesbury Park), in which he makes similar criticisms about the conduct of admissions for this voluntary aided Muslim primary school, and recommends the School to complete its review of admission criteria and arrangements and pay compensation to two parents.

The Ombudsman has found that some faith schools have admission criteria that are not objective or fair, and sometimes places are offered in a kind of competition based on who can give the most evidence of religious commitment. Information may be lacking on how the published criteria are interpreted or measured, and so parents have no way of knowing how decisions are made, or why their applications were unsuccessful even though their applications apparently met the schools' published criteria. Mr Redmond said: 'I am concerned that unless admissions criteria are clear, objective and transparent, parents cannot make informed choices about which schools to apply to for their children.'

During 2003 the Ombudsman received three complaints about the administration of admissions and subsequent appeals by the Governing Body of Islamia Primary School, with regard to entry into the School in September 2003. He found maladministration and injustice and issued a report in December 2004** and a further report in November 2005, as he was not satisfied that the Governors had taken sufficient action on the recommendations he had made.

During 2004/05 the Ombudsman received three similar complaints from different families. These were that the Appeal Panel established by the Governing Body of the School had not properly considered their appeals against the Governors' decision to refuse their children admission into the reception class in September 2004. In particular, the complainants alleged that the Governing Body had failed to ensure the published admission arrangements were implemented correctly and that the Appeal Panel had rejected their appeal even though, in the view of the complainants, the decision not to admit their child was one which no reasonable Admission Authority would have reached. This report sets out the findings of the Ombudsman's second detailed investigation into the School's admission arrangements.

The Ombudsman finds maladministration causing injustice to two complainants. Although the Governing Body has since taken some steps to improve the admissions process, the Ombudsman remains concerned about the number of faults found. The most serious are:

--the admissions criteria, the contents of the application form, and the way the applications are scored, are still not clear, fair and objective, and to date the Ombudsman has not seen details of the revised admissions policy and criteria; and

--the unreasonable delay in making the decision to refuse a place at the School, and then in arranging both the original appeals and the fresh appeals agreed by the School.

The fresh appeals which the Ombudsman recommended have now been heard by a new Appeal Panel, one of which was upheld. The Governors should complete their review of the admission criteria and admission arrangements in the light of the findings of his reports and pay compensation to both parents.

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