'Help! My child hasn't been offered a school place!'

Children playing in school playground
Every year, a number of parents face the nightmare of not being offered a Reception place for their child in any local school. We explain what to do if the worst happens.

When you're applying for school places, it's natural to worry that your child won't be accepted by any of your preferred schools. But a small number of parents find themselves in an even worse situation, and are not offered a place at all. 

Take a deep breath: while it can be upsetting that your child hasn’t been offered a school place, they will be – eventually.

By law, your local council has to find your child a school place by the time your child turns five. This won’t necessarily be in your immediate area – the council will offer you a place at the nearest school to your home address with places remaining, but this may be in a neighbouring location.

Local authorities must try to offer you a place before the start of the September term, but the wait could be longer if there aren’t places available.

No primary-school place: what should I do next?

1. Stay calm. Make sure your child is on the waiting list of your preferred schools and find out what position they are on the list. You can do this by contacting the primary school admissions department of your local council.

If the school is an academy, church school or free school, they will look after their own waiting lists and you should contact the school directly.

2. You can keep your child’s name on more than one waiting list, and there is no limit as to the number of waiting lists you can join. It makes sense to join the waiting lists of all of the schools closest to you, as you are more likely to get in.

Be aware that you can move down as well as up on a waiting list. This is because the names of late applicants will be added to waiting lists in criteria order regardless of the date they applied.

3. You can apply to other schools you didn’t apply to first time around. Again, contact the primary school admissions department of your local council for information about how to do this.

4. If you live close to a neighbouring council, you can also check with them to see if there any available places you can apply for. Sometimes a school in a neighbouring borough may turn out to be closer than a school in the same borough. 

5. Check that the local authority hasn’t made a mistake with your application. You can ask them to explain exactly why your application was unsuccessful. Distance from school is most likely, so check how the distance was measured and make sure it is accurate. If it isn’t, you can appeal – but be aware that appeals are generally unsuccessful unless the council has made a genuine mistake.

6. If you applied to a church school or your child has exceptional medical or social circumstances, make sure the local council has considered all the supporting information you included with your application. If not, you can appeal.

7. Sit tight. After initial offers have been accepted or declined by families, local councils will then re-offer any school places that may have become vacant since the original offers were made. Some always become available due to families moving out of the area, or deciding to send their child to a private school, for example. 

Children without a primary school place may be offered something in the first round of re-offers, or subsequent rounds until all school places are filled – and all children have been offered a place.

8. If you're offered a place, accept it, even if it's not at a school that you want your child to go to. This is essential; if you turn down a place, you probably won't be offered an alternative as the council has fulfilled its obligation. You can stay on the waiting lists of other schools even if you've accepted a place elsewhere.

Other options

Move house
It sounds drastic, but every year people do it. Local authorities have to prioritise children who live closest to a school when places become vacant, no matter how late they applied after the closing date.

Go private
Although this is an expensive option, it could be useful short-term if you think your child will eventually be offered a state school place. Find out about waiting lists at independent schools (places sometimes become available at short notice) and the costs involved of pulling your child out if they get offered a state school place mid-term. 

Stay on at nursery
It’s worth asking if nursery will let your child come back in September until they are offered a school place (or turn five). 

Home educate
Any parent has the right to home educate – you don’t have to be a qualified teacher. Let your local authority know of your intention. This doesn't have to be a permanent measure: you may only need to do it for a short period until a school place becomes available.

Wait it out
Children don't have to be in full-time education until the beginning of the term after they turn five, so there's no obligation to teach them anything yourself or look into private options for September. 

Tips from a mum who has been there

1. Be as well informed as you can about the process. Get hold of a hard copy of your local council’s admission booklet or read it carefully online.

2. If your child goes to nursery, ask the teachers’ advice. It’s likely they’ve seen it all before and will be able to offer calm and considered help.

3. Ring the council – or even go down to the council offices. Even if you can't see anyone in person, try to get hold of a name and direct line so you can speak to someone and have all your questions answered. Being polite goes a long way here, even though you're bound to be feeling stressed and emotional.

4. Ignore the horror stories from other parents and keep in mind that it is extremely likely your child will be going to primary school come September.