How you can win your school appeal

10 June 2009
The Times
link to original

The Government’s announcement this week that parents who have not got their child into their first-choice school should appeal promises to cause mayhem in educational establishments throughout the country.

I should know, because I teach in a top-achieving comprehensive in outer London. In the past, parents angry that their child has failed to gain a place have phoned sobbing, shouted abuse at staff and, in one extreme case, staggered around drunk on the premises raging against the “injustice” of the system.
During the research for my book Parent Power — The Parents’ Guide to Getting the Best Education for Your Child, I spoke to a number of parents whose children had been rejected by popular schools. They all told me about their bitter disappointment. Most of them felt that their child’s life would be harmed if he or she attended the school they had been offered. Many of them followed the Government’s current advice and appealed against the decision.

Then their fun really began. Mounting a “school appeal” is a time-consuming and nerve-racking business. Furthermore, contrary to government propaganda, statistics show that it is often unproductive: roughly one fifth of appeals do not succeed. This is largely because many parents mount emotional appeals that their child needs a place because he likes the look of one school over another, or because his best friend goes to the school, or because he is too clever to go to a poorer-performing school.
These reasons will never succeed because they are not based on what are known as a school’s “admissions criteria”, the rules by which it chooses its pupils. If a parent’s appeal is going to succeed, he or she must prove that the school did not apply its admissions criteria correctly or that the problems faced by the child in going to another school outweigh the trouble for the school in admitting the child.
A third of completed applications are faulty: forms are not filled in fully, vital questions are incorrectly answered, crucial evidence is not provided. The net result may be that a child is not offered a place simply because bamboozled parents have not mastered the bureaucracy of the process.
It is crucial to read the guidance issued by the school to the letter: one tiny slip-up can mean rejection.

Usually, the school or local authority website provides all the relevant details.
Above all, your appeal will need to show that your child does indeed meet the school’s admissions criteria. I have known parents measure the distance between the school and their home with rulers to show that they do indeed live within the catchment area. Other parents trying to get their child into faith-based schools pester their religious leaders for detailed references, in some cases attempting to butter them up with “donations”. In one case, a parent actually pretended to be a pastor in order to get his child into a Christian school.

My advice is always to be honest but put absolutely everything you can think of into your appeal. This could mean showing that your child has aptitude in the school’s “specialisms”, such as drama or sports, or that your child would benefit immeasurably from the unique curriculum the school offers, or that he has special educational needs that can only be catered for at your preferred school. With religious schools some are vague, just asking for evidence that you are practising in that faith. Others are much more hard-nosed, demanding proof of regular church attendance for at least two years. Appeals are not adjudicated by the school or local education authority, but independent “lay” people, usually drawn from the local community. They will consider all parents’ points, including those not part of the school’s admissions criteria. If there are “special considerations” you will need to spell them out fully. I have known of parents who have confessed at appeal meetings that they are ill or disabled, which means their child needs to go a school which is easily accessible by train or bus but not necessarily the closest school, and have succeeded with their appeal. The panel has the power to ignore a school’s admissions criteria.

However, parents do have to bear in mind that they are the biggest single influence upon a child’s results and happiness. A huge amount of systematic and reliable research has shown that children will do well at more or less any school if they are supported positively by their parents.



  1. Hi, I hope you can advise. My son got a place at a good school outside our catchment almost 4 sessions ago. But our daughter has just been refused based on class size. we are thinking of appealing. we are thinking of doing so based on the decision being ‘unreasonable. in honesty, i only filled in that the reason for the school choice was due to sibling already being there and for second choice we stated close proximity to home. she was offered 2nd choice. I guess it was down to naivity. But my husband is going to be away from home a lot from summer ‘seeking greener pastures abroad’ and so i’ll be on my own doing the school run and I work in another city 20 miles away from where we leave.

    i called up admissions and was told there’s a long waiting list and i have a choice of pulling my older child out of school and appealing for him to be accepeted in the school offered to my younger child. however im concerned this may affect him as he doesnt make friends easily and has had just two friends since nursery.

    how best can i word the reasons for our appeal. im confused

    from Bukky Ade
  2. Hi,

    We applied for secondary school places through the LA on the 22nd of Oct 2013, 31st being the deadline using the current address, we were in the process of purchasing another property in a different school catchment, the search/purchase started over two years ago, we notified the authority of this before applying, we moved on the 12th of Nov (would have been in Oct but got delayed a month due to regulatory action on the conveyancers), and notified the authority of this move in January once we had all the bills of the new property. On 3rd of march we were notified that we had no offers from the six chosen schools, upon enquiry the LA said that this is because we applied in January and our application was considered as late. All late applicants go automatically to waiting lists, do you think there is an error by the LA as they upon query in October advised us to use the current address and do not delay application and notify once we have moved?

    from Irfan
  3. Ive just moved home a hour drive from my daughters school. The most local one I can now found is a half hour drive from our home. How can that ok. I do have a car but two other small children and the cost of that journey 4 times everyday. Do I have strong grounds for appeal with more local schools

    from becky
  4. my eldest daughter was placed at our nearest primary/junior school she now attends secondary school of i have been completly happy with though her younger siblings was told no they couldnt have a place at the same primary ./junior scl which is no more than 5 mins away so instead i have to walk over an hour to take them to the school they were actually placed at 1 child is yr 1 other is reception n despite the long walk they both enjoyed it now my biggest problem is they can offer 1 child a place but not rthe other and are offering me a school for youngest n just so happen i really dont like this school so what happened to getting a place automaticlly couse an older siblin went there

  5. The main thing to check is to see if the school’s admissions’ criteria will favour your child because there’s a sibling rule in the admissions’ criteria. The crucial point is to check the admissions’ criteria and see if you can get preferential treatment.

    from francisgilbert
  6. It all depends upon your local schools’ admissions’ criteria. If they favour you because you’re close to the school and they’re not full, then they should admit you, so definitely appeal.

    from francisgilbert
  7. The LA is obliged to find you the closest school to you that is not full so there’s something a bit odd going on here. It might be worth going to the Ombudsman.

    from francisgilbert
  8. The best way to appeal is to check your preferred schools’ admissions’ criteria very carefully and see if you meet it, if you do, the school may well be obliged to take you if they’re not full, or if the trouble suffered by your child outweighs the trouble incurred by the school.

    from francisgilbert
  9. Hi
    We have been refused our appeal for our 1st choice of school which is not our catchment school but is located 0.3m from our home and is closer than our catchment school. We put down 3 choices and were given our second choice, we were at fault as we put our catchment school as 3rd choice. We have just appealed for our catchment school and been refused that as they state we are too far away in the catchment even though we are 1st on the waiting list, but have allocated 5 additional children over and above ourselves. We do not know what to do now as we have been given a school 3 times as far away from our home, we have no family within a minimum of 10miles, we gave a good strong case over childcare issues etc, the fact that this is our catchment school, we have found new childcare, our child doesn’t settle well, I will more than likely lose my job as they cannot accomodate me changing to work school hours. Are the panel obliged to take into account all issues raised and the fact that we were at the top of that waiting list, the refusal letter does not list the major reasons we were at appeal in the fitst place. What do we do now?

    from Mandy
  10. My 4 year old son has been offered a school out of our catchment area and is 2.4 miles away. I don’t drive and have a young baby (4 months) so use a pram, they are expecting me to walk alongside a busy main road which has no footpath. I am going to appeal on safety issues is there anything I could add to help my appeal. Local school is a 10 minute walk with no busy main road.

    from Maria
  11. You can certainly mention the safety issues in your appeal, but ultimately your success will depend upon whether you can meet the admissions’ criteria of the school, and whether the problems incurred by the school in admitting your child are not as great as the problems your child will have if he doesn’t get a place. Focus upon educational points as well, talking about the school uniquely meets your child’s needs. Good luck!

    from francisgilbert
  12. Ultimately, the school makes a judgement upon admitting your child based on their admissions criteria, not your childcare issues; if you meet their admissions’ criteria then you can get a place. I would seek advice from your Local Authority about this; it may be you filled in the forms incorrectly and didn’t appeal in the right way. You can complain; more details are here:
    The complaint form is here:

    from francisgilbert
  13. Thanks for your reply, the appeal panel did not consider all the information we provided and have not listed any of the main concerns that we raised within the refusal letter, this was not just due to carer issues but educational and procedural errors of the school allocated. The LEA made a mistake with their figures and allocated a child the morning of the appeal, they seem to be able to make errors but as parents we are not. The education authority state that even though we are in catchment if we had put our catchment as 1st choice we would not have been given a place as too far away in straightline distance, but we also appealed our closest school which is not catchment but closer than the furtherest child allocated a place to be told we were out of catchment and wouldnt be granted a place. We did meet criteria, the authority seems to be moving the goal posts and to top it off the LEA Manager has given contradictory info to our local Cllr which conflicts with info given to us. In practice if we are too far away within catchment to be allocated a place at our catchment school, then all children from the surrounding properties will be placed by the LEA in any school of their chosing. Surely catchment areas are there for a reason, we are on the boarder of 2 schools but would never be allocated to either, it appears that the LEA are allowed to make it up as they go along to suit them and not for the interest of the childs educational welfare. We have contacted the Ombudsman but would also like to get some professional help. Do you know of any specialist solicitors within Cheshire that we could contact as we are struggling to locate anyone?.

    from Mandy
  14. Hi, I hope you could advise me. I am a single parent who works full time, I moved my daughter to a different area, as I was offered a better paid job. She didn’t want to leave, now the job has not worked out and I am returning to my home area. I can only afford a certain area, and the nearest school is my daughters former school. I rang the school who say year 8 is full I have to go through the appeals process. My daughter is so unhappy, she as stated to lose interest in school, because she wants to return to former school. It was my fault we moved, but job isn’t working out at all. I only care about my daughter who was doing well at her old school. She is so unhappy that I am worried.

    from julie johnston
  15. Hi, we are moving house and my son has got a year 7 place at closest school but my daughter year 6 has not, we have an appeal in 2 weeks but have just had the following info – ” at the time of admission to year 5 sept 2013 due to a large local intake the local authority requested the school to admit 160 pupils – (10 more above PAN) – the governors refused but agreed to admit 155 stating no more children would be admitted to the year group until the numbers dropped below 150. 2 children have now left the year group leaving 153.” My thoughts are if they have previously admitted 155 surely there is room for one more and waiting for the numbers to drop to 150 is foolish as local need has not changed – any advise for our appeal ?

    from gina gadd
  16. We rented in a house and rented our own house out and gained a place for son in the school of our choice. We have now had to return to our own house and the local authority are revoking the sibling rule for my daughter as they say we fraudlently gained a school place although we physically moved to the rented house. Pleaes advise if you think I could appeal – thanks.

    from Mrs Cooke
  17. my eldest child is in year 8 (age 12 ) and I applied as a first choice school for the same school for my second child but she has not been given this school or any of the other two I listed.
    The school is a catholic VA school and I need to appeal as it is extremely stressful and daunting trying to work out how I would manage two children in two completely different areas and schools.
    The sibling criteria is in the admissions criteria but it is number 8 on the list.
    any advice on how I would word my appeal

    from Mrs M
  18. Hi I wonder if you can advise me. My ex husband wants my daughter to go to private school (reception). He got a court order in the summer that we would trial nursery for a year – the order clearly states that his preference is for my daughter to attend private primary school. He has now applied for a state school place – with the express intent of blocking my application for state school – the education authority will not accept two applications for one child as this will place others at determent who could have been offered a place. I am now in the position where my daughter has not been offered any state school place. the EA say she is out of the process – and the appeals process – because she has not even been offered a place. I have to go to court in May to get a judge to decide on schools – but I wondered if I win, do you think I have a chance to appeal to get my daughter into the school of my choice (which is my second nearest school) – or failing that the nearest school to me? grateful for any advice you could give me.

    from Cath Davies
  19. Hi, I hope you can help. My son was not given any of his 6 choices but offered a place in a c of e school. We are not a religious family and do not wish for our child to be taught religion or made to pray twice a day . What will happen if we appeal? We are worried.

    from sue panther
  20. hi
    My 6 year old daughter has been going since reception to RC primary school, which she is in year 1. I have also another daughter 4 year old but did not get a place in nursery last year, even this year for the reception school did not offer her a place. I thought if you got a siblings in school the other might have chance. We are non-Catholic, but when we applied for my older for school this one was our second choice, they offered the place, since were living near this school we accepted. Last year we have to move ,but we decided not to change the school which wasn’t that far journey take 20 minutes bus or train 10 minutes, because my daughter has achieved so much in the school and formed a very strong bond with children and the staff, we were afraid she might withdraw, she is very sensitive child. My 4 year old daughter has become quiet familiar with school has so made a lot of friend which they go same school as her sister but is surprised why she can’t go also like her friends. Last year we were told the was reason was to many catholic children so she is on the waiting I talked with the school but still school rules catholic come first even that her sister attend the school there does not come into the consideration. This year my younger daughter has been offered a place at different school which is impossible for us to take them at the same at school. I work with rotation, since my work in being on train and if there is a power failure or fatality involving the train I am on,then I will be delayed and won’t be able to pick up. Not having relatives in this country me and my husband have to relay on friend which my daughters know them and their children. The way I see is impossible to take at the same time girls in two different schools.
    We are appealing do you think we have a strong a appeal.
    thank you Lita

    from lita
  21. Hi my daughter has been refused a place at her link Catholic junior school because the criteria recently changed last year. She was not baptised during her first year of birth. The reason being i was a victim of domestic violence so bad that i ended up in a wheelchair having two spinal operations. The soonest I could have her baptised was when she was two years old. She then became the victim of neglect and abandoment, being left in the front garden of our home by her father with whom i had not lived with since i endured the battery. We absorbed ourselves in the faith, volunteered for many things related to our church. She is 7 years old, the rejection will hurt her beyond belief as we have built a community related to her infant school. For 3 years she has attended many events at the junior school linked and relationships with the children, and i with the families. As a single parent with no family at all of my own since i lost my father 2 years ago I am frightened for her and how this will affect her. We have appealed which has been incredibly painful in itself. Her father lives in Slovakia now as following the convictions he was unable to secure a job coaching kids in the UK. With a criminal record, even one against our child he is able to do this in Slovakia, living with his new girlfriend he met online 2 years ago. He or his family want nothing to do with my daughter as they blame me for his convictions. I suffered depression for the time i went through all these events.I am a hard working mother and have never claimed a penny for my child, i have supported her independently and offer myself regularly to her infants school to support them. I am also a member of the PTA. For the church i run a lunch and bingo every 3 weeks, support Crisis at Xmas when i work as nurse for 2 shifts. I explain to my girls that the reason is we have a lot to be thankful for and its my way of giving back. I have not told my daughter she does not have a place in September as i cannot. She is a sensitive child, 2 years above national standards and thriving well. However i believe that is because she has a family in the church and our community in the school and the ethos of its teaching. This child needs to feel apart of what she has built during the last 3 years. I have the supporting paperwork for the appeal referencing each of the events, so nothing will be assumption, it is factual, supported by a social worker report,GP letter, priests letter and other information. I have decided to home tutor if she does not get a place because that way i can tell her she is a wanted child, wanted my me even if the school she expected to attend does not.

    from sarah bruno
  22. Dear Francis, We have just been through an appeal for our only faith school which was oversubscribed. The school is uniquely an interfaith school for Anglicans & Catholics (as Cat 1). I submitted in my evidence that the inter-faith part was important to me because I come from Northern Ireland. Noone challenged our faith in the precedings but I was asked to answer a hypothetical question on “Would I still send my child if it was single faith?”. I answerd honestly that I would have to re-consider it. The panel member initially appeared to ask me if faith schools caused the Northern Ireland problem which asked the clerk if it was appropraite for me to answer. Should I have been obliged to answer a vague hypothetical question this way. It felt like they were trying to test my commitment to my faith and faith schools?

    from Eddy
  23. This sounds rather strange. The panel should only be assessing whether you meet the admissions’ criteria for the school; that and nothing else.

    from francisgilbert
  24. I’m sorry to hear this, it sounds extremely difficult. It’s definitely worth appealing and explaining these “special circumstances” to the appeal panel, or failing that the ombudsman.

    from francisgilbert
  25. If you don’t meet the admissions’ criteria, you won’t succeed; I’m not sure that you do meet them from what you say, although it’s difficult to know for certain because obviously I don’t have the criteria in front of me.

    from francisgilbert
  26. Hi, are you appealing for a different school? If so, you will need to show you meet the criteria for that school. This will decide upon your success, not your attitudes towards religion etc.

    from francisgilbert
  27. I think you will really have to come to some kind of agreement with your ex on this one; you can’t have two applications in the system. Once you have agreement, you could appeal if you haven’t got the school of your choice AND you meet the admissions’ criteria of your preferred school.

    from francisgilbert
  28. Yes, definitely appeal and stress how you meet the criteria; an appeal panel should take this seriously.

    from francisgilbert
  29. A tricky one this one; the school do have grounds for claiming this I think. If you do appeal, you’ll have to explain that it was an honest decision. You’ll need to convince them of this.

    from francisgilbert
  30. You’ll have to show that the suffering incurred upon your son will outweigh the problems incurred by the school in admitting him. A panel will have to decide upon this.

    from francisgilbert
  31. It’s worth an appeal if you meet the criteria for this school, you can also tell the appeals panel about your daughter’s problems, although this will not be the deciding factor, it will be whether you meet the criteria.

    from francisgilbert
  32. Dear Francis, Very much appreciated your comments on the weird faith question I was asked. In the end we lost our appeal. There were significant errors in the proceedure and the way the hearing was conducted e.g. contact between the chair and the admissions officer outside the panel hearing, last minute changes to admissions statements plus many others. They also failed to comment on our concerns about bullying in final response. In short is it worth going for an Ombudsman appeal? – My view is we can press the school to utilise its full capacity and put pressure on the diocese to commit the school to apply its ethos properly in the meantime (its a faith school). But without some changes from the school we might just end up with same conclusion (no room and too far from home) again. Is it worth going through all the trauma again?

    from Eddy
  33. My child has not been given a school place with his sibling at a junior school although the school he has been offered is 3 miles away. My situation is that I am a single parent who offers childcare for lots of other children at the older siblings school as well as a local infant school. Would my financial/home situation be taken into account as an affect on my child? I am going to appeal in the next couple of weeks and have other arguments around this situation but wondered if this would be taken into consideration as it does impact our home and also those of the children I care for?

    from Sarah
  34. My son is due to reception in September, I have tried to get him in the catchment school that is a two minute walk from our house but I have been refused due to class size. The next nearest school is three miles away and would not be possible to walk to. I have been advised that they will supply a taxi to collect my four year old son but I do not feel comfortable with this, I also have a two year old son who is at the preschool, next to our catchment school. I am going to appeal but have been advised that it is unlikely I will win. My only other option is to hilome school which is unfair to my son. Any advice?

    from Jessie
  35. I’m afraid if you don’t meet the criteria of the school — which sounds like distance from school etc — then you won’t be able to get him in unless you prove to the appeals panel that the trouble suffered by you greatly outweighs the problems they will have in admitting an extra pupil. You could also beef up your claim by talking about how your preferred school uniquely meets your son’s needs, e.g. it’s approach to the curriculum, facilities etc. Good luck.

    from francisgilbert
  36. It’s worth bringing this to the Ombudsman’s attention I think; it’s not an appeal as such, he will make a judgement about whether things are fairly set up by the school regarding admissions. But only if you have the energy/inclination. Good luck.

    from francisgilbert
  37. You could discuss your financial situation but it won’t be decisive in the appeal; the crucial thing is whether you meet the admissions’ criteria of the school, and/or whether the trouble incurred by the school is greatly outweighed by your suffering in not getting your child a place. So do discuss ‘impact’ but don’t expect it to be decisive. Talk about admissions’ criteria as well.

    from francisgilbert
  38. following an appeal my grandaughter has not been given a place at the school where she has attended nursery Problems with her psychological welfare began in March when her baby brother was diagnosed with a life threatening illness. Mum and I were in hospital with him for a week and he has medications and lots of hospital appointments. It was on class size. Her problems have led to her waiting for an appointment with a psychologist. We are in contact via phone with a psychologist at the hospital her brother is attending. The letter of refusal does not list this as something they considered when making their decision.Should we complain to the ombudsman. She has emotional anxiety and developing OCD issues along with bed wetting,nightmares and soiling during the day.

    from Jane Anthony
  39. If you can get your daughter a SEN diagnosis from an Educational Psychologist (LA are legally obliged to provide an interview with an Ed Psych if parents/school raise concerns) then this should bolster your appeal. Remember you must meet the admissions’ criteria. Sounds like you should definitely appeal. The appeal panel won’t be obliged to consider parental issues but can, at their discretion, take this into account. Good luck.

    from francisgilbert
  40. My daughter is due to start reception in 2016 and I am worried that she won’t be able to get into the same school where my 6 year old on goes. It is a most sought after school in and this year as many as 5 kids in the catchment couldn’t get places. We will normally be applying for Sibling out of catchment, but there are very thin chances as per this year results. We moved slightly out of catchment for a cheaper rental house after my husband got injured at work. He is now a mental patient, getting PIP and walk with the help of walking aid. He is diagnosed with PTSD and Chronic fatigue syndrome. He currently goes to drop kids (pre school and primary in same campus) and really enjoyed this daily activity. We are planning to apply under special needs, please advice how do we prepare our application.

    from Rani
  41. we have already been to appeal and were still refused a place. should we try the ombudsman. Also I have discovered that the school has an admission higher than we were told (due to appeal success) and one infant class has two teaching staff. Also the information we had was 315 children on roll but the local authority website says 312.Our appeal was on infant class size but education officer talked mainly about future class sizes.

    from Jane Anthony
  42. Yes, try the Ombudsman I think. It sounds a little odd to me. Why the other people and not you?

    from francisgilbert
  43. You need to have a formal assessment of SEN by either the SENCO at your child’s current school and/or an assessment by an Educational Psychologist. The LA are obliged to provide this if you feel and the school feel this is appropriate. You can also go private. This Mum’s Net thread is helpful:

    from francisgilbert
  44. She already has a psychologist who has recommended that she should remain at the school.I rang the clerk of the meeting and asked why psychological issues were not on the list of considerations by the panel and she just kept repeating that everything had been taken into consideration but she couldn’t put everything on a letter, even though this had been our main reason for appeal, along with possible medical problems that have yet to be determined via genetic testing.Have been in touch with ombudsman and also going to see our local MP. This whole thing is so frustrating as we are now left with the choice of 1 school only.

    from Jane Anthony
  45. sorry me again. Can I ask for a copy of the minutes from our appeal hearing

    from Jane Anthony
  46. Yes I believe you can.

    from francisgilbert
  47. It’s good you’ve got that support from the psychologist. If the school has SEN on its admissions’ criteria (which some schools have now) then the SEN issues need to talked about in the letter. Sounds a bit remiss to me.

    from francisgilbert
  48. Hi, could you advise me whether all school applications have the right to an appeal?
    My son failed to get a place at our small catchment school due to unforseen oversubscription. Before we found out about the oversubscription it had been pre arranged with the school that once in the school he would be educated alongside Year 1 pupils due to ability. This was the only school with the ability to do this.
    Our appeal failed but we were told there was a vacancy in Year 1.
    The Head Teacher agreed to forward year our son and spoke to the council admissions head officer who confirmed there was a vacancy and NO waiting list. We signed all the paperwork to forward year into Year 1 and my son took part in three integration sessions at the school. On the third session the school informed us that the LEA had just told them that the vacancy had been given to a child who was not our son. There has been a lot of confusion since and the Cheif Executive of the County Council is refusing us an appeal on the grounds that they acted appropriately and we had accepted the previous outcome of the appeal.
    We have written evidence to prove there was false information given to us and the Head Teacher at the initial stages of our Application to forward year to Yr1. The appeal was about our Reception year application.
    Can the Council really refuse us an appeal? They are only doing so because they know we’ll win. We have the backing of the Head Teacher, the MP and the County Councillor who have all been witness to the error.
    What should we do?

    from Rebecca
  49. I’m sorry to hear this. The council probably can refuse an appeal if it is about the “false information” issue, but they can’t if you are appealing because you believe your son met their criteria for admission. That’s what you must focus upon: appealing to show that your son met the school’s admissions criteria and that the suffering incurred on him and his educational needs is greater than the trouble incurred on the school if they admit him, i.e. they will say they don’t have space.

    from francisgilbert

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