The schools appeal process

The waiting period for school admission announcements can be an anxious time for many parents. The outcome of school applications is a big step in your child's school life. This article helps those families who don't get the decision that they want. If you have received the school places decision and your child has not given a place at your chosen school, here we provide advice on the school's appeals process. 

For those parents who don't know how to appeal a school decision or if you want to know what to do if your child is refused a school place, this article will help.

We know it can be an anxious time for the whole family, so we have put together the following information to provide you with all the guidance that you need to appeal a school decision. This article will cover the process for appeals for infant classes, junior and secondary school decision appeals, and tips for a successful outcome.

When are school places announced?

With applications in and being processed, there are many parents anxiously waiting for confirmation on the school places for their children. If you want to know when councils send school confirmation letters, the dates are:

  • Primary school places announced on 16th April 2020
  • Secondary schools on 2nd March 2020

What to do if you don't get the school you want

 

Of course, everyone hopes to get their child into their preferred school, and we hope that you get the decision that you want. If you do, you will be able to celebrate the good news with your child on these dates. However, if you don't get the school you want and you receive a letter stating that your child has been refused a place at your chosen school, what happens next?

Firstly, try not to panic and get upset. Keep calm, and even though you may be hugely disappointed, try not to show your frustration – especially in front of your child. Of course, a negative decision is a big disappointment but there are things you can do about it.

However you are feeling about the school placement decision, you do not want to create unnecessary anxiety for your child. Don't let them pick up on any negative views that you may have about a school; this may have a harmful impact on them in the future.

One option is to accept the negative decision and add your child to the waiting list of your preferred school. Families can move out of the area within the next few months before the academic year begins. When this happens, it can open up spaces at the school, and by the time your child is due to start the new term, they may be offered a place. If you want to do this, you can contact the local authority or the school directly and find out your position on the waiting list. However, you should be aware that you can move up and down the waiting list as children move in and out of the school catchment area.

If you decide to appeal a school placement, then keep calm and make sure you read the letter that you have received carefully. It will explain how to appeal against the school decision and the deadline for submitting the appeal.

Important

Please be aware that the appeal deadline is usually around one month from the confirmation letter stating that your child has not gained a place – therefore, you mustn't delay in preparing your appeal.

It is also worth noting that you must inform the admission authority of your request for an appeal in writing. You will be given a date for the school appeal hearing at least ten days in advance. If you put in school place applications to more than one school (and have been rejected from more than one school), then you must appeal against each rejection decision separately. Even if you choose to accept a place for your child at another school, you still have the right to appeal a decision by another school. It will not risk your child's school place in any way, or mean that they end up having two places allocated to them.

Do you have good grounds for a school appeal?

 

The appeal process can be an intensive procedure and can be stressful for you and your child. So, you must consider whether you have grounds for an appeal. You do have the right to appeal and should do so if you want to. The most common grounds for school appeals include:

  • Medical or social needs
  • Admission procedure error

Appeals for Infants Schools

For infant school children aged 5 to 7 years old, class size is very strictly limited to 30 children. Due to this, there are only a few legal reasons why a child can be admitted over this size. Unfortunately, it is very rare that an appeal will be successful if all classes already have 30 children in them. The success rate for infant school appeals on these grounds is sometimes as low as 1%. Therefore, you will need to look at whether the following might be grounds for your appeal:

  • The admission arrangements haven't been followed correctly
  • The admission criteria aren't legal according to the school admissions appeal code
  • The decision to refuse your child a place wasn't reasonable

The definition of 'unreasonable' in the law has a very narrow meaning: "An unreasonable decision by an admission authority is a decision which is not rational in terms of its legal responsibilities or it is outrageous in its defiance of logic."

So, it is not considered an unreasonable refusal of a school place if you were unsuccessful simply because you happen to work nearby. If the school run is less of a hot spot for traffic, for instance, it is not a valid appeal argument for placing your child in a particular school. (Although when it comes to the practicalities on a daily basis, we appreciate that these are valid reasons for you wanting your child to go there.)

School appeal on medical or social grounds

If you decide to submit an appeal on social or medical grounds, you must have reasons specific to the school that you have applied to. Your appeal must show that only that school can cater to your child's needs. Medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, or allergies, for example, are not usually successful appeal reasons. All schools should be capable of providing support to children with these conditions, so an appeal on these grounds is not likely to succeed.

Also, all schools will be well equipped to support children as they move from nursery/preschool to reception class. Naturally, some children will have more challenges settling in at school. It can be difficult for all of you if your child has to change from a nursery in one school to a reception class in another. However, a school appeal panel is unlikely to consider this as grounds for granting an appeal.

There are strategies in place at all schools to help any child that may have difficulties making new friends or getting used to a new class.

Having a school appeal upheld on the grounds that the decision to refuse your child a place wasn't reasonable can be extremely difficult. Before taking this route, make sure that you do lots of research so that you can prepare your case thoroughly. For an appeal to be successful, proof is required that shows the admission criteria have not been applied correctly and/or that admitting your child would not cause prejudice to the school.

Appeals for Junior and Secondary Schools.

On a more positive note, there is no class size limit for 8+-year-olds. If you choose to appeal a junior school and secondary school decision, there are two stages. Although there are a lot of technicalities and legal jargon about these, try not to panic. It can sound more complicated than it actually is.

Stage 1 of the school appeal process

The panel must consider:

If the admissions arrangements complied with the mandatory requirements of the Schools Admission Code and Part 3 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998.

When it comes to this avenue of appeal, it can be tricky. According to the majority of legal advice websites and parental guidance services, the majority of admissions arrangements are compliant with the mandatory requirements.

Whether the admission arrangements were correctly and impartially applied in the case in question

For this argument, the panel will most likely argue that to admit your child would cause 'prejudice to the provision of efficient education or the efficient use of resources.'

You can challenge this argument; you don't have to accept it. Information that will help counter this includes the following information from the admissions authority:

  • Average classroom capacity
  • Common area capacity
  • Admission numbers for each relevant age group
  • Actual numbers of pupils in each age group
  • Figures showing pupils on the SEN register
  • Staff levels of the school
  • A copy of the school's NET Capacity Assessment

It is recommended that you look through the information thoroughly. You may be able to use the data provided to challenge a refusal. You can argue for your appeal to be upheld if, for example:

  • The year group is not yet full, and the school has the capacity available for more pupils.
  • Classrooms can usually accommodate more than 30. If the forms in the year group are less than 30, perhaps larger groups could be taught without causing difficulties.
  • Are there bigger groups in other years? If so, the school has shown they can manage larger groups and should be able to handle larger groups for your child's year.
  •  Are there fewer pupils with special educational needs in the applicable year group? If so, you may be able to argue that there is spare teaching capacity.

Whatever evidence you have for your argument, set everything out as clearly as possible. Double-check all the data that you are using to make sure it is accurate. It helps you to speak with confidence, have notes, and information regarding where the facts and figures were obtained. It will help the panel see that you are using sources of information that can be trusted.

School appeal - stage 2

During this stage, the panel has to balance the prejudice to the school against your case for your child to be given a school place. It is your chance to outline all of the reasons why you want your child to attend your chosen school. The best advice on appeals is to write honestly and passionately.

Remember to include everything that the school can offer your child and what any other allocated schools cannot, for example:

  • Your child's attributes and talent
  • Their suitability for the school
  • The type of education provided at the school

The school website and prospectus are a good starting point when it comes to researching the ethos of the school. You will find information on its teaching practices, curriculum, and culture. Using this information allows you to make your appeal as specific to your chosen school as possible.

Your grounds for appeal should be consistent in Stage 1 and Stage 2 (as applicable). Make your appeal document as clear and concise as possible. All cases are considered on an individual basis as to whether the parent's case outweighs the prejudice to the school.

Every piece of evidence that you can gather or valid point that you can make in support of your application is crucial. If more cases outweigh prejudice than school places, the school will choose the most persuasive case with the best supporting evidence. You want your appeal to stand head and shoulders above all the others to have the best chance of success.

Submitting a school appeal

As previously mentioned, the appeals process can be highly competitive. Due to this, some parents choose to go to agencies who fill in all the forms for a fee.

If you choose to appeal, make sure that you prove your points. Wherever possible, provide reports that back up your case and get letters from independent sources such as a doctor or health visitors. We also recommend looking at the school profile, inspection report and policies, and other relevant information. You may find things to support your case and also tailor your arguments to the individual school.

The fact that you are appealing the school decision in the first place shows the strength of feeling you have about why your child would thrive there. Explain why you feel so passionately that this would be the best school placement for your child and remain focused on this, instead of highlighting negatives of the alternative school.

Your application will be stronger if you can verify your information thoroughly. Make sure that all of the points that you are making are true and correct. If any information you use proves to be incorrect, it could have a negative impact on the rest of your case.

What happens at a school appeal hearing?

 

So, what happens on the day? Try not to be too nervous or daunted by the prospect of the appeal hearing. Everybody involved in the process wants to find the best solution to the situation

So, what happens on the day? Try not to be daunted by the prospect of the appeal hearing. All those involved want to find the best solution. You are not on trial, so don't be nervous. To mentally prepare yourself for what will happen during the appeal, be aware that the room may appear to seem full at the hearing. There will be:

  • Three-panel members
  • An officer from the council for the school admission's service
  • The clerk to the appeal panel
  • Yourself and anyone else you wish to bring with you for support (for example, a friend, relative or a representative to help make your case)

All panel members are fully trained in the law relating to the admission of children into schools. They are also fully aware of the rights of appeal that parents have. The panel members will have no interest in the school you are appealing to. So you should not feel that they are looking for ways to rule against your appeal. They will have no vested interest in keeping numbers down at the school you are applying for; they will be looking at the facts to make a decision.

When the appeal hearing starts, you will be asked to explain your reasons for appealing the school's decision. If you like, you can take an outline script or notes. It can help if you become nervous or lose your train of thought during proceedings.

You have a right to outline why you want the decision looked at, and it would be a great shame to leave without feeling that you have explained everything you wanted to get across. Take your time to address your notes and check that you have covered everything that is relevant.

Also, bring any additional evidence or documents with you to the hearing. You should bring things such as a doctor's letter if there are medical needs or anything else that will back up your case. The panel will review everything, so any evidence put together by you will aid the panel to decide whose case is stronger – yours or the schools.

The appeal decision is not made on the day of the hearing. The final appeal decision (which is legally binding) will be sent to you within five working days.

If the appeal is upheld, your child will be given a place at your chosen school. If the appeal is unsuccessful, you still have an option to put your child's name on the school's waiting list. Unfortunately, there is nothing further you can do to appeal the school's decision after the hearing decision has been made.

and you are certainly not on trial! To mentally prepare yourself for what will happen at the meeting, please be aware that the room may appear quite full at the hearing. There will be three panel members, yourself and anyone else you wish to bring with you for support (for example, a friend, relative or a representative to help make your case), an officer from the council representing the admission’s service and the clerk to the appeal panel.

 All panel members are given full training in the law relating to the admission of children into schools, and the rights of appeal that parents have. None of the panel members will have an interest in the school you are appealing for, so please do not feel that they are looking for ways to not accept your child or that they have any vested interest in keeping numbers down at the school you are applying for.

Once the appeal hearing begins, you will be invited to say why you’re appealing against the school’s decision. You may wish to take with you an outline script or notes that will help to prompt you if you feel that you may become nervous or lose your train of thought under pressure. It would be a great shame to leave the meeting without feeling that you have conveyed your points as accurately and completely as possible, so don’t be afraid to take your time on the day to address your notes and check that you have covered everything that is relevant.

Remember to also bring with you any additional evidence or documents with you – like a doctor’s letter if there are medical needs – to back up your case. These will be reviewed by the panel and all the evidence put together by you will aid the panel to decide whose case is stronger – yours or the school’s.

You will not be told the decision on the day, but the final decision (which is legally binding) will be communicated to you within 5 working days.

If your appeal is successful, your child will be given a place at the school. If your appeal is unsuccessful, you can still put your child’s name on the school’s waiting list but unfortunately there is nothing further you can do to appeal the school’s decision.

Useful contacts for parents

 

We sincerely hope that any school placements you are waiting on in the future are successful and that you do not have to tackle the appeal process. Below are some useful telephone numbers and websites which can provide further information:


How can Parental Choice help?

Parental Choice are unable to advise on individual school appeal cases or appeal on your behalf.  All the information you need to appeal a decision can be found above.

If your child does not receive a place at the school of your choice Parental Choice can help you search for other schools.

Contact us on 020 8979 6453 to see how we can help or email us on info@parentalchoice.co.uk

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