What to do if you don’t get the primary school you want

Competition for school places means your child might have missed out on your first choice. Here’s what you can do next…


Today many children will be finding out which primary school they have been accepted into. Demand for places is high – children often miss out on their first choice, and in some cases, aren’t offered a place in any of the local schools.


It can be a very stressful time if you don’t get the place you hoped for and appealing can be just as tough. But it’s important to consider all the options, and keep a clear head, as detailed below…

Step 1: Don’t get stressed in front of your child

Keep calm and even if you’re feeling devastated, don’t let your child pick up on your worries and stress.

Step 2: Don’t reject the place you have been offered

Accept the school place you have been offered, so you have a safety net. You don’t want to lose that place and end up with an offer to a much less desirable school.

Step 3: Ask to go on the waiting list for your school of choice

There’s a lot of movement on school waiting lists, even with the most popular schools. So give them a call (be patient, the lines may be busy) and ask to be put on a waiting list, even it’s a long one. Places can come up all the way to the beginning of term. It’s not uncommon for a child to get a place on the first day of term.

Step 4: Notify your local authority that you wish to appeal.

You’ll find the deadline for making appeals on your local authority’s website in the schools and education section. It will also send you the relevant forms or you may be able to appeal online.

Step 5: Work out if you’ve got good grounds for appeal

Making an appeal can be a very stressful and intensive process, for your child as well as you. While every parent has a right to appeal, make sure you have a solid reason for appealing before you start. These may include:

  • Admissions procedure mistake: You may feel that an error has been made in measuring the distance between your home and the school. Collect as much independent evidence as possible to support your case.

Social or medical need: You may feel your child has special needs that will be dealt with more successfully by the school of your choice, or that moving your child away from the school where he is currently at nursery would be damaging to him. 

You can submit extra information along with your appeal, such as documentation regarding special medical or social needs, costs of transport, bus timetables and so on.

Step 6: Appeal within the correct timeframe

Your appeal must be heard within 40 days of an appeal being lodged, or before the end of the summer term, whichever is sooner. 

Your appeal will be heard by an independent panel, who will consider the school’s case that it cannot take any more children weighed against your case that your child really needs that particular school. You may want to employ a solicitor or member of a schools appeals organisation to help.

Step 7: Keep an open mind about other schools

Find out about other schools, ask to visit them and talk to other parents who may send their children there.

What happens if you lose an appeal?

The panel’s decision is binding and can only be overturned by a court. 

But don’t despair. If you lose, you can still put your child’s name on the waiting list for your school of choice. Bear in mind that a lot can happen between spring and autumn, and places may become available. You can remain on the waiting list as long as you like. Of course, you’ll want to think about the impact of moving your child once she’s settled in to school. 

If your child is due to go to primary school and was born in June, July or August, you may be able to defer their entry until the next year, although they will then go straight into Year One, rather than Reception (check this with your local authority).

What if you’re offered no place at all?

This can happen in areas where there’s very high demand for primary school places, particularly in cities. 

You’ll need to contact your local authority to find out where there may still be places, although these may be some distance away from your home. Your child can then be placed on the waiting lists for a number of schools. 

Your local council is obliged to provide schooling for your child from the age of five, so if there are a large number of children without places, it will have to consider adding classes at local schools. Usually, a council will wait till several months to see how the situation pans out – not very helpful to stressed out parents!


Where to go for more help

If this all sounds rather daunting, log on to the Advisory Centre for Education for more information, or call 0808 800 5793 if you’d like to talk to someone about your case.

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