How to appeal a school place: what to do if your child doesn’t get the school wanted

Getting your child into the school you really want for them can be a nail-biting time for parents. Here's how to appeal if your child doesn't get in...

a cartoon showing children at a school place

There's a lot to learn and consider if you want to appeal a school place. But it's worth the time and effort if your child didn't get the school they originally wanted.

The wait can often feel never-ending after you've applied for your primary school (opens in new tab) or chosen your secondary school of choice. But National Offer Day has a habit of creeping up sooner than you think each year.

Whilst we can all hope for the right outcome when secondary and primary school places are announced (opens in new tab), sometimes things just don't go to plan. However it's important to remember that all is not lost if your child doesn't get one of the three schools they selected - with options like school appeals and waiting lists worth going for.

What to do if your child doesn't get a place at your chosen school?

First of all it's important not to panic, as there are options available to you if your child didn't get into the school you all wanted. These include joining a school's waiting list and launching a school appeal if you feel your child's application was not correctly handled. 

After receiving your child's placement offer, it's crucial you accept the current school offered. Even if it's not the one you want. This means that at the very least you have a place secured for you child come September. If you reject it, you might not be offered an alternative school as the council have technically fulfilled their obligation.

Sometimes a child's application is turned down because it's a popular and oversubscribed school. But as is life - plans change and people move - so it's worth joining a waiting list to see if a place later becomes available to you.

two school children reading a book at school

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School Waiting Lists

Every school has a waiting list of students. So we recommend you joining your chosen school's waiting list at the first possible opportunity. If it's a primary school you can do this via the primary school admissions department of your local council. Whereas secondary schools have their own admission departments, so you'll want to contact them directly to join.

It's good to know that a child can be on as many school waiting lists they please. So it makes sense to join a few nearby schools to increase your chances of getting a place.

School waiting lists also operate differently from a first come first served basis. Instead, applicants are added in order of their criteria. So be aware that you could move both down and up places on school waiting lists.

School Appeals

It can be fairly difficult to win a school appeal. However, if you think the decision wasn't right then there are still a couple of things you can do. You are entitled to a school appeal if:

  • The admission arrangements have not been followed properly.
  • The admission criteria applied by the school do not comply with the school admissions appeal code.
  • The decision to refuse your child a place was 'not reasonable'.

If you feel your situation matches with one of these three criteriums then you should go ahead and start your appeal.

How to appeal a school place

You have at least 20 school days from when the school decision letter was sent to appeal your child's place. To appeal a school place, you'll need to write to your local authority, outlining why you believe the decision reached was wrong.

Whilst finding your local authority (opens in new tab) and the relevant contact details is easy. Knowing what to write might be a struggle. There are professional services like School Appeals Services (opens in new tab) which can do the work for you for a fee. Similarly website The School Run have drafted up template letter examples you can copy or use for inspiration:

After the authority has received the appeal notice, you'll be given a date for the appeal hearing at least 10 days in advance. Appeal hearings should be heard within 40 days of the appeal deadline.

"The admission authority will set a deadline for submitting information and evidence to support your appeal," adds the government website (opens in new tab). "If you submit anything after the deadline, it might not be considered and may result in delays to your hearing."

Government advice also states that you have to appeal against each place rejection separately and can only appeal once against each rejection.

Woman learning how to make a school appeal on her laptop at home

Credit: Getty
(Image credit: Getty Images/Westend61)

What happens at a school appeal hearing?

Three to five members of the public will form the school appeals panel and they will make the decision as to whether it was fair or not. They will be told why the school turned down your application and check that the school's admission arrangements comply with the Schools Admissions Code.

Next, you have the chance to speak and tell the panel why you're appealing and the reasons why you think your child should be accepted at the school.

After the hearing, the panel have to decide who they think has the stronger case - you or the school. You should receive the decision in writing within seven days.

The decision the panel comes to is legally binding. If you're successful, your child will get a place at that school, however if you're unsuccessful, you can still have your child's name put on the school's waiting list.

If your appeal fails you can only have the decision reversed through the courts. Though this will of course occur fees and be a lengthy process with no guarentee of success.

What to say at your appeal hearing

  • Have what you want to say written down in clear points, don't rely on your memory as it could fail you if you're feeling nervous on the day.
  • Explain to them why this school in particular is right for your child. Focus on these reasons to back up your arguments, rather than why other schools would be bad.
  • Include any special circumstances as to why your child should attend the school, for example for logistical reasons or medical ones. Take any documents or evidence with you to prove this to the panel.
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Should you complain to the school Ombudsman?

It shouldn't be your first port of call to appeal a school place. However if you appeal, are refused a second time and are still unhappy, this is the time to complain to your local Ombudsman.

Ultimately though, the decision of whether your child is accepted or not is at the discretion of the school. So while you can't complain about the decision, you can complain about the appeals process. Particularly if you think that it wasn't handled well or that they didn't follow the correct guidelines.

"If we decide we should not investigate your complaint, we will make that decision as quickly as possible (we aim to do so within four weeks)," explains the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman website (opens in new tab). "If we decide your complaint needs a detailed investigation, this will take some time."

"We usually have to request information from the school or council and have to give both parties the opportunity to comment on our provisional findings before issuing a final decision," they add. "This may mean we do not reach a decision before the start of the school year. You should therefore make arrangements to educate your children while you are waiting for our decision."

You can get in touch with the school Ombudsman via their contact us page (opens in new tab) or complete an online complaint form (opens in new tab).

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