Your questions answered: choosing, applying to and appealing secondary school places

A Parent's Guide to Secondary School cover
We invited education author Dr Kim Thomas to talk to TheSchoolRun’s parents about navigating secondary school choices. Read on for her top tips.
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Coronavirus update 2020

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 31 January 2021. This gives admissions authorities sufficient time to deal with appeals in September, when children start school.

Navigating secondary school choices

Dr Kim Thomas, author of A Parent's Guide to Secondary School, joined us for a webchat to talk applying for and appealing secondary school places. Here’s some of the highlights from the chat...

Realistically, how much choice do you have when choosing a secondary school? 
Daedalus

Most of us won't be spoilt for choice – places in the really popular schools will generally go to people living close to the school (unless it’s a faith school or selective school).

Apparently one in seven people nationally miss out on their first choice of secondary school. And in London, for example, 40% of people don’t get their first choice.

In your three preferences, include one where you know you’re almost certain of being offered a place.

I’d like to know a bit more about choosing a school. Advice is often ‘make a list of what is important to you’, but how do I know what's important? No school is going to tell me that it has anything other than high standards, is it?
Barefootgirl

I would advise you to find out as much as you can for yourself: read the last few Ofsted reports, ask parents whose children are already at the school and attend the open evening. If you can, visit the school on a normal school day so you can see what it’s ‘really’ like.

You can also ask the head pertinent questions, such as how they deal with badly-behaved children.

Other things which might be important are whether it’s a big or small school, whether it offers after-school clubs, what kind of provision it has for special needs or gifted children etc.

We have applied for three schools but there is only one our daughter really wants to go to. However, it's not the catchment school and our concern is she may not get an offer. If we have to appeal, what is the best way to approach this? What happens during an appeal?
Mommacrab

The first thing is to go on the waiting list. Then to make an appeal, you need to fill out a written form and a statement to explain why your daughter should go to that school. In a few weeks’ time, your case will be heard by an independent appeals panel.

The panel will consist of three people, one of whom will have a background in education. Both you and the school (or local authority) will be given the opportunity to make your case. The school will argue that it is full up and that to accept your child would ‘prejudice’ (i.e. disadvantage) the education of the other children. To maximize success, you need to do two things:

  1. Show that the school can afford to take your child without damaging the education of others. It’s a good idea to find out how many children are in each class and the school’s ‘net capacity’. You may find that there is space.
     
  2. You have to show that there is an overwhelming reason why the school should accept your child. Maybe your child is particularly shy and needs a small school, or maybe she has dyslexia and needs a school with good special needs provision.

Read the full webchat online in TheSchoolRun's parenting forum.

Other resources:
You can buy A Parent's Guide to Secondary School from TheSchoolRun's book shop.