Secondary school admissions appeals

school admissions letter

What do you do if, after all the angst of the application process, your child doesn't get a place in the secondary school you wanted for them? One option is to appeal – here's how

On what grounds can you appeal?

The panel will consider whether the school's admission criteria are fair, whether they have been applied fairly, whether the school has shown that it is objectively oversubscribed and making an additional place would be detrimental to the school, and whether your child in particular deserves a place if other parents are also appealing for it.

When preparing your appeal, you should focus on three main areas:

  • Your child's social needs. Have they been bullied at school in the past and need a place to “start over”? Do they have a special educational need (SEN)?
  • Your child's academic needs. Do they demonstrate a gift or talent for a subject or discipline in which the desired school specialises? Would they feel less self-conscious in a single-sex school, or vice versa?
  • Your family's needs. Do not focus on negative aspects of the school's performance; instead, build your case on issues like distance from your home (if your child is uncomfortable using public transport, or if public transport isn't available where you are and you would find it difficult to drive them yourself), academic requirements (if they place limitations on, for instance, GCSE subjects), and whether it's a good fit for your child (if it's a very large school and your child is shy or has special needs that might get ignored or passed over).

Will your appeal be successful?

Successful secondary school appeals do happen. Generally, an appeal is successful if you can:

  • Prove that the allocated school would seriously inconvenience either the pupil or a parent because of a disability which makes accessing the school difficult
  • Prove that the desired school specialises in an area in which the pupil is genuinely talented (languages, music, sport)
  • Prove that the desired school has refused the place as a result of discrimination against characteristics protected under the law (such as physical disability, as mentioned above)

When to do it

In England, confirmation of secondary school places is sent out on the 1st of March – you should have confirmation by the 3rd at the latest. The letter or email you receive will have details about how to make your appeal, which will be heard by an independent panel composed of members of the public. The appeal hearing should take place by early July.

school meeting

How do you make an appeal?

The admissions letter or email will include instructions for beginning the appeals process, and will specify the deadline you must meet if you want to appeal. In some areas, you may be able to submit your appeal online.

If more than one school declines to admit your child, you can make separate appeals. Try not to be over-emotional during your appeal (easier said than done) and don't rely simply on how special your child is to win over the appeal panel – every parent thinks that, or they wouldn't be at the appeal in the first place.

Do your homework about the school beforehand and bear in mind the following advice from Mumsnetters:

  • “Know the school you want your child to go to inside out, and argue for that, not against the other school. You should be looking for positive reasons why your child needs to attend that school as opposed to any other, not why your child should not go to the allocated school. Don't let the school/LA get away with unsupported statements – you will have the opportunity at the appeal to put questions to them, so use it.”
  • “If you lose your first appeal, your only chance to overturn that decision is if you can demonstrate that the appeal panel misdirected itself or failed to follow proper procedure. That will probably mean going to court, which is slow and potentially expensive.”
  • “I did not realise that I would be asked to do a summing up at the end and was so flappy that I felt I wasted those few closing words. I went alone and feel now that having someone with me would have helped, maybe they would have jogged my memory about things.”

What happens during the appeal process?

It is the school's job, during the appeal, to prove that they cannot take any more children, and to prove that it would be bad for the school if they were forced to. Your job is to prove the opposite: that it would be bad for your child if they had to go to a different school, and why he or she must attend this one.

One Mumsnetter's experience of an admissions appeal was as follows:

“At my son's appeal, an LEA rep read out a statement to the effect that the school was oversubscribed. The panel asked me if I had questions for the LEA rep (try to have a question as it makes you look prepared). I gave my statement (I'd scribbled what I wanted to say). There were then questions from the panel, after which they asked me if I had anything new to add. The LEA rep summed up (basically repeated what she said earlier), then I summed up. Start by thanking them for listening to you – it's polite! You can't add any new evidence in your summing up, so just reiterate your points again. Good luck – the panel were nice but it's very stressful. We won our son's appeal, so lots of big smiles here!”

What happens after the appeal?

Once your appeal has been heard, you'll be told the result within seven days by post. If you fail, you can still keep your child's name on the school's waiting list.

If you're unhappy about the way the appeal process was carried out, you can complain to your Local Government Ombudsman. They can recommend a new appeal, but they can't review or overturn the appeal panel's decision.

If you've got the patience (and the money), you can also think about applying for judicial review in the High Court. There's a deadline for doing so – you must apply within three months of the decision – but don't take this step without talking to a lawyer who specialises in education law and who can advise you whether you have a case.

Don't forget

  • Always add your child's name to the waiting list of any school that you applied for, but where they haven't been allocated a place. It's usually done automatically but it is always worth checking
  • Remain calm. School doesn't start in most places until September – that's plenty of time for circumstances to change, waiting lists to move up, and so on. Keep in touch with your desired school's Admissions Department, and make sure you are on waiting lists
  • Accept the school place you have been offered. If you get an offer from a school you prefer more, you can always reject it, but it is much better for your child to have a place in a school than none at all
  • If you're unfamiliar with the school that's offered your child a place, make an appointment to visit it during the day. Ask lots of questions. Try to keep an open mind, too – it's possible that you will discover that this school is suitable, after all