The schools appeal process

With many parents nervously awaiting the outcome of school applications, this article is aimed at those families who don’t get the decision that they want and provides advice on the schools appeals process. For those parents who have not been through the appeals system, it can seem incredibly daunting with a minefield of information to consider.

We are aware it can be an anxious time for both parents and children, therefore we hope that the following information will provide you with all the guidance that you need to appeal a negative school decision (whether your child is going to an infant, junior or secondary school) and top tips for a successful outcome.

If the transition to a new school in September will mean that you need to reconsider wrap-around care for your child, or if you would like any further information or help on finding nurseries, schools or childcare then please do contact us at Parental Choice as we can help.

Appeals process

With applications already in and being processed, many parents are now anxiously awaiting confirmation as to where their child will start school in September. The important dates to look out for when councils will send confirmation emails/letters are:

  • Primary schools on 16 April, 2020
  • Secondary schools on 1 March, 2020
Not got the school you wanted?

We hope that you get the decision that you want and can celebrate the good news with your child on these dates. However, if you are not successful and you receive a letter from your local authority stating that your child has not got a place at your chosen school, what happens next? Firstly, do not panic and try not to get upset – especially in front of your child. Obviously, a negative decision is hugely disappointing but don’t forget that there are things that you can do. You do not want to create unnecessary anxiety for your child, or for them to pick up on any undesirable views that you may have on a certain school which may be harmful to them in the future.

Some parents will choose to accept the negative decision and simply add their child to the waiting list of their preferred school. There is often movement within the next few months before the academic year begins, and it may well be that by the time your child is due to start school sufficient spaces will have opened up for your child to be offered a place. You can contact the local authority or the school directly to find out your position on the waiting list. However, please be aware that you can move up and down the waiting list as children move in and out of the catchment area.

If you do wish to proceed with making an appeal, then keep calm and read the letter that you have received carefully. This will tell you how to make an appeal against the school decision and the deadline by which you need to do this.

NB 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 do not delay in preparing your appeal!

It is worth noting that you must inform the admission authority of your decision to appeal in writing – you’ll then be given a date for your appeal hearing at least ten days in advance. If you applied to more than one school (and have been rejected from more than one school) then you must appeal against each rejection separately. It is ok to appeal even you have already accepted another school – this will not jeopardise your place in any way, or mean that you end up having two school places allocated for your child.

Appeals for Infants Schools

For 5 to 7 year olds, class size is very strictly limited to 30 children. Legally, there are only a few reasons why a child can be admitted over this size and unfortunately, it is very unlikely that your appeal will be successful if all classes already have 30 children in them. Success rate for appeals on these grounds is sometimes as low as 1%. Therefore, you may wish to look at whether the following might be grounds for your appeal:

  • The admission arrangements haven’t been followed properly
  • 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 law actually 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 is outrageous in its defiance of logic.”

Therefore, it is not considered unreasonable that you have not been offered a place at your chosen school simply because you happen to work nearby, or that the journey to this particular school is less of a hot spot for traffic, for instance. (Although on a day-to-day basis, we fully appreciate that these are extremely valid reasons for you wanting your child to go there!)

If you decide to appeal on social or medical grounds, these need to be specific to the school that you have applied to and you must try and show that only this particular school can cater for your child’s needs. For instance an appeal is unlikely to succeed on medical grounds for asthma, diabetes, epilepsy or allergies, for example, as all schools should be capable of providing support or additional help to children with these conditions.

Similarly, all schools should be well equipped to support children through the transition from nursery/preschool to reception class. Obviously some children will have difficulty settling in at school, and it can be heart-breaking if your child has to change from a nursery in one school to a reception class in another. However, an appeal panel is unlikely to consider this as grounds for upholding an appeal because of strategies and procedures in place at all schools to help any children that may struggle to make new friends or get used to new surroundings.

It can be extremely difficult to win an appeal on the grounds that the decision to refuse your child a place wasn’t reasonable, so make sure that you do lots of research and prepare your case thoroughly. For an appeal to be successful, it needs to be proven that 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.

The good news is that for 8+ year olds there is no class size limit. For junior and secondary schools, the appeal process has two stages. Please try not to get too bogged down with the technicalities/legal jargon involved with these. It perhaps sounds more complicated than it actually is!

Stage 1

The panel must consider:

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

This is a tricky one to appeal against and according to appeals legal advice websites, most admissions arrangements are compliant with the mandatory requirements.

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

In most cases, the panel will be arguing that to admit your child would cause ‘prejudice to the provision of efficient education or the efficient use of resources’. 

To try and challenge this argument, don’t be shy – obtain the following information from the admissions authority:

  • The admission number for each relevant age group
  • The actual number of pupils in each age group
  • The number of pupils on the SEN register
  • The average capacity of classrooms
  • The width and safety of corridors and stairwells
  • The capacity of common areas
  • Whether the school is fully staffed with teachers
  • Ask for a copy of the school’s NET Capacity Assessment

We recommend that you look carefully through the information provided and see if you can use this information to challenge refusal, for example, look at whether:

  • The year group is not yet full and the school building has capacity for more pupils.
  • Classrooms generally accommodate more than 30. Are the forms in the year group less than 30? If so, perhaps larger groups could be taught without difficulty.
  • Are some year groups larger than others? If so, the school has been able to manage larger groups in the past, in which case it should be able to manage larger groups now.
  • Are there fewer pupils with special educational needs in the relevant year group? You might be able to argue that there is spare teaching capacity.

Set out your arguments as clearly as possible and double check all the data that you are relying on. It will help you to speak with confidence if you have notes and information regarding where the facts and figures were obtained from, and this will also ensure that the panel are aware that you are citing trusted sources of information.

Stage 2

At this stage, the panel must balance the prejudice to the school against your case for your child to be admitted to the school. This is your chance to give your reasons for expressing a preference to your chosen school. Write honestly and passionately and remember to include everything that the school can offer your child that other allocated schools cannot, e.g. talk about:

  • Your child’s talent
  • Their suitability for the school
  • The type of education offered at the school
  • The school prospectus and website might be a good place to start when researching the ethos of the school, its teaching practices, curriculum and culture, so that you can make your appeal as specific to your chosen school as possible.

Try to set out your grounds for appeal in line with Stage 1 and Stage 2 (as applicable) and make your document as clear and concise as possible. All cases are looked at individually as to whether the parent’s case outweighs the prejudice to the school, so every piece of evidence that you can gather or point that you can make in support of your application is crucial, especially as if there are more cases which outweigh prejudice than the school can admit, then the school will go with the strongest case. You want your case to stand head and shoulders above all the other applications to guarantee success.

Submitting an appeal

As previously mentioned, the appeals process can be extremely competitive – so much so, that some parents choose to go to agencies who fill in all the forms for a fee. To support your application make sure that you prove your points! Try and provide reports that back up your case and obtain letters from anyone independent, e.g. doctors or health visitors, etc., who will agree with you. We would also recommend looking at the school profile, inspection report and policies etc. to support your case so that you can tailor your arguments to the individual school in question.

 The very fact that you are appealing the school decision in the first place shows that you have strong feelings as to why your child would thrive in their setting. Try and explain why you feel so passionately that this school would be the best place for your child and concentrate on this, not on why an alternative school would be bad.

Your application will hold more weight if you can verify your information thoroughly. Vigorously check that the points that you are making are true and correct. If a point you have made proves subsequently to be incorrect, this could undermine the rest of your case.

The 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 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 information 

We very much hope that any school decision you may be waiting on in the future is successful and that you do not have to tackle the sometimes complicated appeal process. We do hope that the information within this article is helpful – please see below some useful telephone numbers and websites which will provide you with further information:

  • Government advice on appealing a school decision:
  • Advisory Centre for Education, which offers advice on appeals:
  • Local government Ombudsman factsheet about Infant Class sizes:
  • Government publication on the school admissions appeals code:
  • BBC website information on appealing a school decision:

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