How to appeal if you don’t get the school you want
If your child hasn’t got into the school you wanted, you can appeal if you think you have a strong case. But you need to know how the system works…
On March 1 2024, it's Secondary School Offers Day in England and Wales, when parents of schoolchildren who are currently in Year 6 find out which of the secondary schools they have applied for has offered their child a place.
Most of us, thankfully, will get an offer we're happy with: according to the latest (2023) Government figures on school applications and offers, 95.6% of families received an offer from one of their 3 preferred schools, with 82.6% of families receiving an offer from their 1st choice secondary school (down slightly from 83.3% in 2022).
But obviously that does mean a fair number of parents do find out that their child hasn't been offered a secondary-school place at the secondary school that they're happy with. If that's the case for you, what can you do?
Here's your 8-step guide to how to appeal your child's school place
Step 1: Try not to get stressed in front of your child
Keep calm – easier said than done, we know! But no matter how devastated you're feeling, try not to let your child pick up on your worries and stress.
It's probably also wise not to them overhear you expressing any negative views of the school where your child has been offered a place. If your appeal is not successful, your child may well end up going to this school and it won't make the situation any easier if they know you don't rate it.
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When are Secondary School Offers Days in Northern Ireland and Scotland?
- Nothern Ireland: May 20.
- Scotland: There is no Offers Day as such. Each local council uses catchment areas to decide in which school they're placing children in their area. Some councils will send out letters confirming the school place; in other council areas, parents will need to enroll their child at their catchment area school.
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 then, if your appeal is unsuccessful, end up with a place at another school you may be even less happy with – or (unlikely but not impossible) no place at all.
Accepting the place you have been offered won't affect your appeal.
What if my child hasn't been offered any secondary-school place at all?
This isn't common but it can happen, especially in areas where there’s very high demand for school places.
You'll need to contact your local council to find out where there may still be places. These may be some distance from your home. Your child can then be placed on the waiting lists for other schools nearer to your home, so you can take up a place as soon as it becomes available.
Step 3: Get your child on the waiting list for the school of your choice
There's a lot of movement on secondary-school waiting lists, even with the most popular schools – families with a place may move to a different area, for example, or they may decide to send their child to private school instead.
The waiting list for your chosen school may be operated by the school itself or by your local council. Your offer letter may tell you which; if not, the local council's website should.
Once you've found out who to contact, mail the contact address or give them a call (be patient; the lines are likely to be busy on Offers Day) and ask to be put on a waiting list, even if it’s a long one.
All schools must keep a waiting list open for at least the first term of each school year and it’s not uncommon for a child to get a place on the first day of term. If your child is on the waiting list and is offered a place, you can still accept the offer even if they have already started at another school.
Step 4: Carefully read the offer letter and work out if you have grounds for appeal
The letter which contains the decision about your child's school place should set out the reason why your preference was refused. Read it through carefully.
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, it's good sense to make sure you have a solid reason for appealing before you start the process.
Believing strongly that the school you've been refused is the best one for your child will not, sadly, be accepted as a valid reason by the appeal panel. You will need, instead, either to show:
- An admissions procedure mistake: Has the school/council made an error when applying the school's admissions criteria to your child? Perhaps your home's distance from the school has been incorrectly measured, for example, putting you wrongly outside the catchment area?
- A social or medical need: Does your child have specific needs that can be clearly met by the school you've been refused but cannot be met by the school you have been offered?
Step 5: Find out when the appeal deadline is
Your offer letter will tell you what to do if you are not happy with the school place you have been offered. This should include information about how to appeal, including where to send your appeal, what documentation you'll need to supply, and the deadline for appealing.
The admission authority must allow you at least 20 school days – from when they sent the decision letter – to appeal.
Step 6: Assemble your evidence and documentation
You'll need to submit your appeal in writing and clearly explain why you think your child should attend the school in question – and what the impact will be on them if they don't.
It will help if you submit supporting information and documentation that backs up the case you are making.
This documentation may include letters or reports, maps showing the distance between your house and the school, evidence of transport costs, bus or train timetables, and so on.
Try to collect as much independent evidence as possible to support your case. In particular, if you are making a case about your child's medical or social needs, you should get a supporting letter from a medical or social-care professional.
You may want to get a solicitor or member of a school's appeals organisation to help your appeal. You will be charged a fee for this, so make sure you get clear information about the cost up front.
Organisations that specialise in advice on school appeals include the Coram Children's Legal Centre and The Advisory Centre for Education. You may find it really useful to read the government's guidance for parents and guardians on making a school appeal.
Step 7: Send in your appeal and prepare for the hearing
Your appeal case must be heard within 40 school days of the deadline you were set for sending in your appeal, and the admission authority must give you at least 10 school days' notice of when and where the hearing will be taking place.
The panel will also decide the format of the appeal hearing: it may take place in person or remotely by video call, or a hybrid of the two.
Your appeal will be heard by an independent panel of 3 or more people who will follow the school admissions appeal code.
First, an office will present the school's or admission authority's case for refusing to admit any more children to the school in question. Then – usually – the panel will ask you to present your reasons for why the school should admit your child. You may bring a friend, family member or someone else with you for support.
Step 8: Wait for the verdict
You will usually find out, in writing, within 5 school days whether your appeal has been successful or not.
The panel will uphold your appeal if it find the admission arrangements weren't properly applied or if the negative impact on your child of not attending your preferred school is stronger than the case put forward by the school.
The panel's decision is binding and can only be overturned by a court.
What happens if you lose an appeal?
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 should be able to remain on the waiting list as long as you like – which means even if a place doesn't become available before the start of the school year, you could snap one up that becomes available later on.
In the meantime, try to keep an open mind about the school you have been offered. Find out more about it, ask to visit, and talk to other parents who send their children there. You may well find you feel reassured about your child going there.
What about school appeals in Scotland and Northern Ireland?
- Northern Ireland. You can appeal a decision about a school place if you think the school didn't apply or didn't correctly apply its published admissions criteria. To appeal, you must go to the Education Authority website where you can send the appeal form (AT1 form). When you submit an appeal, an Independent Admissions Appeal tribunal will consider the appeal and decide if the school has applied its admissions criteria correctly or not.
- Scotland. If your request for a different school place to the one you have been allocated is refused, you are advised to first talk to your council to check that they're aware of all the reasons for your request. If this does not help, you can make a formal appeal. Each council has their own rules so check with your local council to find out more information about what you need to do.
Emily is the Digital Content Producer at MadeForMums, working across the brand on everything from pushchairs and car seats to baby names and the latest product launches. She researches topics thoroughly to make sure our content is accurate and helpful for parents and loves bringing the details about latest parenting products and innovations to our audience.
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