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Appealing a primary school place

Getting your child’s primary school allocation letter and finding it isn’t what you had hoped for or – worse – is what you had dreaded, is a gut-wrenching moment. But all may not be lost. If you're considering an appeal, here's a step-by-step guide to the process

By Mumsnet HQ | Last updated Jun 7, 2021

Primary School Kids Playground

We didn’t get our choice of primary school. What next?

Primary Teacher

Firstly, don’t panic. It can feel very disappointing but do try not to involve your child in any of this – if she senses that you don’t like the school but still ends up going there, you could be creating trouble for yourself come September.

Secondly, accept the place you have been offered. You might hate the idea but at least your child will have a place somewhere in September. That’s better than her having no school place when all her friends start. Be assured that accepting the place you’ve been offered will not have any bearing on the outcome of your appeal and rejecting it will not improve your chances of success at appeal either.

Thirdly, get on the waiting lists for any school(s) you wanted. Let the local authority know that’s what you want and, although the schools themselves don't have any influence over whether your appeal is successful, you could just give them a quick call once the dust has settled, to make sure you're on their waiting list. You should automatically go on the list having been rejected but there’s no harm in making sure – do give it a few days though, as they'll likely be inundated with calls straight after the allocations have been sent out.

Finally, take a moment to remind yourself that it isn’t the end of the world, even if you can’t change the decision, but you do have the chance to appeal, so you need to maximise that opportunity.

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How do you appeal a primary school place?

Kid thinking into Distance

When you get the letter telling you which school your child has been allocated it will include details of how to appeal, including the deadline for lodging an appeal. The rejection letter you receive will explain why admission has been refused, and will have information about how to appeal, including the deadline for lodging your appeal. Read all this thoroughly and make sure you are following all instructions to the letter.

You need to appeal in writing to the local authority, and you will have to make separate appeals if you're appealing against rejections from several different schools. You can appeal just one or all of them if you wish, but each is a separate case and will go to a separate appeal.

What are the grounds for appealing a primary school decision?

Unfortunately, you can’t appeal just because you don’t like the choice. There are very specific criteria for appeals. You can appeal a rejection from a school if you can show that:

  • The school's admission arrangements haven't been followed

  • The admissions criteria don't meet the School Admissions Code

  • The decision to refuse your child a place wasn't reasonable

Do your homework very thoroughly – check previous admission numbers, the distance from school of the last child offered a place etc – you may find an error.

How to win a primary school appeal

Primary School Children

The first two criteria (above) are the least likely to apply but if they do, they’re probably the easiest way to win because it will be a fairly black and white issue. So before you worry about anything else, double-check for obvious mistakes. For example, has the distance between your home and the school been measured correctly?

Check what the admissions procedure was and check the School Admissions Code. If either were breached, you’ve got a good case.

The last point (that the decision was unreasonable) is most open to interpretation so it may well be the one you want to appeal with, but you’ll need to have a really solid argument so make sure you get all the help with your appeal that is available.

If yours is an Infant Class Size (ICS) appeal (ie where the school admits in classes of 30) you'll win only if you can show there was an error which deprived your child of a place or the decision to refuse a place was so unreasonable that it should be overturned.

If you've been allocated a place at a school you didn't name on the application form, or one that's outside your catchment area, don't assume this is a mistake. If a child doesn't get a place at any of the schools on their application form, they're allocated a place at the nearest school with a vacancy.

With class sizes for five- to seven-year-olds in England and Wales limited to 30 children or fewer, your application may be refused if places have been oversubscribed if all 30 places have already been filled.

Help with preparing an appeal for a primary school place

Mum with Primary Aged Child

There is lots of help available online with filling out your appeal form and what to say at the hearing. Coram Children's Legal Centre has chapter and verse on preparing an appeal and you can download a free school admission appeals factsheet. It also has a telephone advice line: 0845 345 4345, 9am-8pm Mon-Fri and 9am-12.30pm Sat – and an online virtual assistant.

When and where will the appeal take place?

The 'admission authority' (ie the school itself or your local council) has to give you at least 10 school days' notice before the hearing to confirm the date. Appeals have to be heard within 40 school days of the appeal deadline. The appeal will be heard by three volunteers on ‘neutral’ ground.

What happens at a primary school admissions appeal hearing?

The admission authority will state why your child has been refused a place and then you'll be given the opportunity to explain why you believe your child should be admitted to the school.

Your appeal is heard by a panel of three people who must be independent. The panel's job is to decide if the school's admission criteria are legal and were followed properly. If they were, they then have to decide if the criteria were adhered to fairly and thoroughly.

If the panel decides the admissions criteria weren't properly followed or are illegal, your appeal will be upheld.

When will I get the result of the appeal hearing?

The panel will send you (and the admission authority) its decision in writing within five school days.

What happens if we lose the appeal?

Primary Kids Talking

If you think your appeal was mishandled, you can challenge the decision. Again, Coram Children's Legal Centre has details about how to go about this.

You may also be able to apply to appeal again if you think there has been a change in your circumstances that could affect the original decision.

And never say never – other parents' circumstances change (house moves, new jobs etc) and if your child is top of the school waiting list, in time a place could become vacant.

Ultimately, if your child can't go to the primary school attached to their pre-school, or where all their little friends from nursery are going, it can feel like very hard. But remember that it probably feels much worse to you than to your child. Many Mumsnetters say that though they worried in the run-up, their child’s actual experience once they started primary school was fine. Most children settle in with no worries at all and they’ll soon be fully ensconced in their new life and bringing their new ‘best’ friends home for tea.