Compensation for North Notts families of children at different schools

The case was investigated by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman
The case was investigated by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman

Two Notts families who had to send their children to different schools due to an ‘unfair’ policy are to be paid £500 compensation a year.

It was decided last year that the council’s school admission policy of not giving priority to siblings was ‘unfair’. This policy has since changed.

But now, the Conservative-lead Nottinghamshire County Council has agreed to pay two families £500 a year because their children missed out on places at their preferred schools while the old policy was still in place.

Under the previous Labour administration, the council removed priority school places for families with a child already at a school, meaning the two families were left having to take their younger children to different primary schools.

As their preferred school is full, there is little prospect of the younger siblings of either family being offered a place in the near future.

The council has said it respects the ombudsman’s decision and there was no desire to cause distress, but there are always going to be some families left dissatisfied.

The case was investigated by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman – an independent person charged with making decisions on the behaviour of councils.

The ombudsman, Michael King, said: “The changes Nottinghamshire County Council made to its admissions arrangements have had a significant impact on daily life for these two families, which could last until the older siblings have moved on to senior school.

“In cases like this we would normally ask the council to offer a fresh appeal to the families. But because the school has now converted to an academy, neither the council nor we have any authority over its admissions arrangements.

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“I am therefore pleased the council has accepted my recommendations, and hope these will go some way to help these families with their arrangements over the coming years.”

Under the last administration, councillors in Nottinghamshire decided to remove priority in the oversubscription criteria for children outside the schools’ catchment areas who had siblings, over those outside the catchment area who did not.

This decision affected the two families, who applied for reception places at the same school for entry in September 2016. The two families appealed the decision not to offer their children a place, but these appeals were unsuccessful.

The Office of the Schools Adjudicator ruled in January 2017 that the new admissions arrangements for September 2017 were unfair. The council decided to offer second appeals to families affected by the changes in 2016 who might thereby have lost places.

The two families were offered a second appeal, but because the school was full it could not offer them places for their children.

The families are now having to transport their children to different schools in the morning, and make arrangements for after-school clubs or for friends and relatives to help with collecting in the afternoon.

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In this case the council has agreed to apologise to the families and pay them each £500 per school year until either the time their eldest children leave the preferred school or the preferred school has spaces for their younger children.

It will also pay both families £250 for the distress in being denied the remedy they should normally have been entitled to, and a further £250 each for the time and trouble in bringing their cases to the ombudsman.

Councillor Philip Owen is the chairman of the Children and Young People’s Committee, and represents the Nuthall and Kimberley ward for the Conservatives.

He said: “This finding relates to decisions taken under the previous Labour administration, but I do understand why the council took the position it did. It is unfortunately the nature of the school admissions process that there are always going to be some families and children left dissatisfied whichever policy an authority adopts.”

“By restoring priority in the oversubscription criteria for children outside a schools’ catchment area who have siblings already at a particular school, this could mean that children who live nearer and perhaps only just outside that school’s catchment may have to go a much longer distance to get to another school. I am not convinced that the adjudication took their rights into account sufficiently.

“However, Nottinghamshire County Council respects its duty to abide by the ombudsman’s decision. There is certainly no desire by this authority to act unfairly or cause distress to any family.”

Kit Sandeman , Local Democracy Reporting Service