Primary school appeals: a step-by-step guide
In the UK in 2014, around one in eight children missed out on their first choice of primary school. ‘Infant classes (Reception, Year 1 and Year 2) are limited to 30 children, so if the places are filled by children with stronger admission criteria – such as those who live nearer or have siblings already at the school – your child will be offered an alternative,’ explains Liz Coatman, state schools expert at the Good Schools Guide.
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The current situation with coronavirus and social distancing has led to some changes in the appeals pathway.
Parents will still need to submit their appeal request as usual, following the school's or local authority's normal process, which you'll find on their website.
The big difference is that because appeals hearings involve more than two people, they don't comply with social distancing rules and so can't be held face to face.
Instead, the hearing could be held by phone, video conferencing or by letter, with each party submitting a written report. The appeals clerk has to contact all parties to check they have what they need to participate in their hearing, e.g. access to video conferencing facilities.
Other changes mean that the appeal panel may consist of two instead of three members, if the third withdraws (e.g. due to illness).
You'll also have at least 28 days' written notice of a new appeals deadline, and 14 days' notice of your appeal hearing. This gives more flexibility for appeals teams to adapt to the new way of working.
Once current lockdown and social distancing rules are relaxed, appeals may revert to taking place in person, but the possibility to conduct them remotely will remain until 30 September 2022. This gives admissions authorities sufficient time to deal with appeals in September, when children start school.
Should you appeal?
You automatically have the right to appeal about your child’s school place, but before you decide to go for it, bear in mind your chances of success. There are two types of appeal. If your child has been denied a place because of infant class size legislation (i.e. there are 30 pupils in either Reception, Year 1 or Year 2) you can appeal on the following grounds:
- The admission criteria weren’t legal
- The admission criteria were not correctly applied, and if they had been, your child would have been allocated a place
- The decision not to admit your child is unreasonable
Otherwise, you will make a two-stage appeal, where:
- The school has to prove that admitting your child would prejudice the education of the class as a whole, or would involve an inefficient use of educational resources, or,
- You have to prove that the impact on your child of not being admitted would outweigh any prejudice to the school.
Also remember that because – unlike in junior and secondary classes – infant classes are limited to 30 children in all but exceptional circumstances, infant place appeals are the least likely to succeed. But if you do choose to go for it, how do you go about it?
Step 1: accept the place you’ve been offered
Even if you don’t want send your child to the school you have been offered, it’s essential to accept the place unless you’re sure you have an alternative. This is to ensure that they definitely have a school to go to, in case it takes some time to find another school that you’re happier with. It’s also important to make sure your child is on the waiting list of any of the schools that you would like them to go to. ‘This should happen automatically, but it’s best to contact the admissions authority and check that your child is on the list,’ says Liz.
Step 2: obtain an appeals form
You’ll need to contact the school’s admissions authority for an appeals form. This is the local authority for maintained schools, but could be the school itself if you’re applying for a voluntary aided or voluntary controlled (e.g. church) school, academy or free school. They will tell you the cut-off date for submitting your appeal: this is usually 20 school days after you were notified of your child’s school offer.
Step 3: complete and return the form
On your appeals form, you’ll need to set out the main reasons for your appeal. Unless you think there has been an error in the way that places were allocated, or that the admissions criteria themselves were unlawful, this is likely to be because you think there are strong reasons why your child should attend the school. Return the completed form to the admissions authority. If you have any supporting evidence – such as medical records explaining special educational needs – it’s a good idea to send it in at this stage, although you can submit evidence later if it’s not ready yet.
TheSchoolRun offers a free school appeals sample letter which you can use as a template to help you complete the form or write your own appeals letter.
Do you need a support?
You are entitled to get legal advice, both with preparing your appeal and with appearing at the appeal itself. Unfortunately, you can’t seek legal aid for school appeals, so you’ll need to pay for any professional services yourself. ‘If you decide to seek support, make sure that they are specialists in the field – it’s quite common for pop-up legal services to emerge around the main appeals times, but they may lack the necessary experience,’ says Graham Jones of School Select, which helps parents with school appeals.
Step 4: prepare your appeal
Once you’ve decided to appeal, you’ll need to start preparing your case. In a two-stage appeal, this will include making notes about your reasons for appeal, and contacting anyone you might need to provide supplementary evidence (such as a doctor’s letter). If you’re using a lawyer or other representative, they will help you to write your appeal. ‘When you’re preparing your appeal, keep in mind the two main stages of the appeals process: will admitting your child prejudice efficient education or lead to an inefficient use of educational resources; and what makes the school you’re appealing for unique to your child that can’t be replicated at any other local school?’ says Graham. ‘Everything in your statement must address these two points.’
Step 5: the appeal hearing
Every family that submits an appeals form is entitled to an appeals hearing, where a panel of three independent people will consider your case and make a decision. This must be within 40 working days of the appeals deadline, and you must be given at least 10 working days’ notice.
At the appeals hearing:
- The admissions authority will explain why they turned down your application.
- You’ll be able to give your own reasons why your child should be admitted.
- The panel will decide if the school’s admission criteria were legal.
- If so, the panel must decide if the criteria were followed thoroughly and fairly.
- If the panel decides that the admission criteria were not legal or not followed properly, they must uphold your appeal.
- If not, the panel must decide whether your reasons for your child to be admitted are stronger than the school’s reasons for not admitting them.
You’re entitled to present your own case at the appeals hearing, but you also have the right to ask someone else to appear on your behalf, such as a legal representative, friend or relative. ‘I advise parents to appear themselves, along with a representative if necessary, unless there’s a strong reason not to,’ Graham says. ‘A legal representative can help challenge the admissions authority’s decision, but when it comes to talking about why the school is the best fit for your child, no one knows better than you.’
Step 6: the decision
You’ll be notified of the decision within five working days. If the decision doesn’t go your way, unfortunately there’s no further right to appeal – it can only be overturned by a court. However, if you think the appeals process was flawed, you can complain to the Local Government Ombudsman. ‘You may also be able to appeal again if there is a significant change in your circumstances that could affect the decision, for example, if your child develops a medical or social need,’ adds Liz. You can also choose to remain on the waiting list of any preferred schools, in case a place becomes available later in the school year.