National Ombudsmen
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Ombudsman criticises Grammar School over refusal to remedy injustice

Bishop Vesey’s Grammar School has refused to remedy injustice caused by serious flaws in the conduct of its admission appeals as found by the Local Government Ombudsman, Anne Seex.

She has today (20 March 2012) taken the unusual step of issuing a second report, calling on the Governors of the School, in Sutton Coldfield, to reconsider its position and agree to her recommendations to hold new appeals for the boys affected, and pay £200 compensation to the parent who complained.

The Ombudsman made her recommendations in her original report of September 2011, in which she listed many failures (listed below) to comply with the statutory Admission Appeals Code. The Ombudsman concluded that, among the key faults, the Clerk to the Governors was involved to a far greater extent in the appeal process than he should have been, and that the lack of training provided for members of the Appeal Panel and its Clerk were significant factors in the mishandling of the appeals.

The Ombudsman says: “I am not satisfied with the response of Bishop Vesey School’s governing body. It has failed to understand that it is not for the governing body to judge the strength of the complainant’s case for appeal or the decision made by the Independent Appeal Panel. The purpose of having an Independent Appeal Panel is for people independent of the School to make a decision on the merits of an appeal, having followed the correct process and given proper consideration to all relevant information. The Ombudsman’s role in investigating complaints is to ensure that an Independent Appeal Panel has followed the correct process and given proper consideration to all relevant information. A governing body cannot substitute its opinion for one made properly by a Panel or substitute its view on how a Panel has operated for my view.”

She goes on “In my report I criticised the Clerk to the governing body. He appears to have played a significant role in advising the governing body on how to respond to the report.”

In addition, she says: “The School says that the Appeals Code is not suited to a small single school. The Appeals Code is statutory guidance intended to ensure that both parties to an appeal feel there has been a fair and transparent consideration of the issues. The School is not entitled to ignore parts of the Code because it is difficult for them to follow.”

In her original report, the Ombudsman listed the points where the School failed to comply with the statutory Admission Appeals Code; it:

  • provided notes written by the Clerk to the Governors that were likely to deter appellants
  • involved the Clerk to the Governors in the administrative arrangements for the appeal hearings
  • failed to meet reasonable requests for the provision of information relevant to an appeal
  • failed to provide the prejudice argument to the Panel and appellants in the required timescale in advance of the hearing
  • failed to ensure that the prejudice statement contained the required information
  • failed to provide adequate training for Panel members and the Clerk to the Panel
  • failed to provide the Panel with the correct advice about the requirements of the Code during the hearing
  • failed to provide the Panel with the correct guidance about the proper approach it should take to its decision making
  • issued a decision letter that did not explain in enough detail the Panel’s decisions and why an appeal was unsuccessful, and
  • issued a decision letter and that was not signed by either the Clerk to the Appeal Panel or the Chair.

In addition, the Appeal Panel failed to comply with the Appeals Code on two points; it:

  • failed to either consider the prejudice argument at each appeal or hold a grouped multiple appeal, and
  • failed to consider all the appellant’s grounds of appeal in the appeal hearing.

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