National Ombudsmen
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Council needs to review whether children have lost out on school places

Bolton MBC should check whether any children have missed out on a place at their preferred school after the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) upheld a complaint about its schools allocation process.

A mother, whose son was due to start school in September 2015, contacted the LGO when an appeal about her son’s school place was not upheld.

The investigation found Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council changed the way it decided schools admissions mid-way through the application process, and without consulting people.

The council uses distance from the chosen school as the main criterion. Previously, where there was a tie for a place it would allocate any remaining places to those children whose alternate school would be the greatest distance from their homes. However, midway through the round of allocations in December 2014 – seven months too late - the council decided to simply draw lots to determine the places. 

The LGO investigation found fault with the way the council changed its admissions arrangements. 

In the individual case, the investigation found the council was at fault for allocating the children a place by drawing lots. However, it was clear that the boy would not have been allocated a place at the school requested even if the proper process has been followed.

Dr Jane Martin, Local Government Ombudsman, said:

“When making changes to policies which affect a wide number of people it is only right and fair that such changes are made with consultation and at the start of the process so that parents have a level playing field when applying for school places.

“I have taken the unusual step of issuing this report where the individual parent has not suffered an injustice, to highlight that other parents in the area may have been affected by the incorrect application of the allocation process. 

“I am pleased that Bolton council has accepted my recommendations, and would urge other councils to ensure that they do not make the same mistakes.”

To remedy the complaint, the council has agreed to check whether any parent lost a school place in its area for September 2015 because of its use of the incorrectly amended admissions arrangements. If any parent has lost a place for their child, they should be offered a place. 

The Ombudsman is satisfied the arrangements for 2016-17 have been properly determined.

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