Opted-out opt out of scrutiny

Tes Editorial

Local government ombudsmen have criticised as unjustified the way school admission policies at opted-out schools escape their scrutiny.

They can rule on complaints from parents against appeals decisions at such schools. But governors at grant-maintained, voluntary-aided and special agreement schools decide admission limits, admission criteria and decisions prior to appeal, free from the ombudsmen's jurisdiction.

At local authority-run schools such matters can be considered by the ombudsman. In their annual report published this week the ombudsmen said the anomaly appeared to have no adequate justification. "Complainants cannot understand the justification for this; nor can we."

The attack came as the ombudsmen revealed a flood of complaints last summer from parents who were disappointed by decisions of school admission appeal committees. These committees consider parents' appeals against the decisions of councils or school governors about the school to which their children are to be admitted.

Education accounted for more than 7 per cent of the 15,525 complaints to the ombudsmen. In their report the ombudsmen said: "It was clear from the complaints how greatly parents value the opportunity to express their preference" Patricia Thomas, the local government ombudsman for the north of England, said the whole admissions process - as well as the whole exclusions process - now needed to fall within an ombudsman's jurisdiction.

She said: "With schools in the local authority sector, parents can complain to me if, for example, misleading or inaccurate information is provided.

"For voluntary-aided, special agreement and grant-maintained schools there is not the same opportunity for parents to complain."

The ombudsmen recommended that subjective criteria for admission should be avoided or minimised; that councils and appeals committees should keep proper records; and that training should be given to clerks and members of committees considering appeals.

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