Primary school admissions: how to appeal

What happens if, come admissions D-day, you discover your child hasn't got a place at your preferred school? One of your options is to appeal

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Offer letters for reception places are sent on 18 April 2017. Online results may be available before you receive the letter.

How to appeal against a primary school admissions decision

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.

You need to appeal in writing, and you will have to make separate appeals if you're appealing against rejections from different schools.

You can appeal a rejection 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

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. 

"If yours is an Infant Class Size (ICS) appeal (ie where the school admits in classes of 30) you will win only if you can show that 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." 

Double-check for obvious mistakes

For example, has the distance between your home and the school been measured correctly? 

"Do your homework very thoroughly - check previous admission numbers, distance from school of last child offered place (use Google maps pedometer) etc - you may find an error."

But 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.

Getting help preparing your appeal


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.

The appeal hearing

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.

What happens at the 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 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 were adhered to fairly and thoroughly, and meet the legally binding School Admissions Code.

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

The panel will send you its decision within five school days. You may be able to apply to appeal again if you think there has been a change in your circumstances that could affect the original decision.

If you lose the appeal

School pupil

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

If, ultimately, 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 induce the first (of much) parental agonising over schools and education. 

But try not to stress out: many Mumsnetters say parents find the idea of their children missing their friends more worrying than their children's actual experience once they start at their new school.

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.

A word of warning

Try not to set your sights entirely against the other options in case your appeal fails, and try not to transmit your negative feelings about your less preferred choices to your child. You don't want their starting-school memory to be tarnished with adult angst about school choices.  

Last updated: 3 months ago