How you can win your school appeal

10 June 2009
The Times
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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.


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  1. Hello Francis, I am completing a letter to go with the application/admittions form for secondary school entry September 2015 and I’m a bit stuck. We are theoritically in the so called catchment area, depending on how many children there are in any given year. My daughter suffers from a Chronic Illnes which effects her mobility. Some days she is absolutely fine but other days she can’t walk more than 10 mins. What do I need to highlight in my supporting statement? Are there any key words I can use? My daughters consultant, phycologist and GP have agreed to write a short letter to expain the importance of been near school (eventhough the consultants letter or shoud i say paragraph is very brief. She has taken about 5 days off school during the year due to hospital appointments, will this go against her? I have written a draft letter but just doesn’t seem professional enough.
    Many thanks in advance.

    from Vicky
  2. Sorry Francis i meant September 2016

    from Vicky
  3. Hi,could I know who can represent me at the hearing. I would like somebody from a specialist Association or Old Teachers.Thanks for your help.

    from Lalie
  4. Hi I’m writing to ask your advice. My grandson has been living with me since June of this year, his mum suffered a breakdown and couldn’t cope with the child after the breakdown of her relationship…. To be honest she has been battling with long term depression since being sexually assaulted in 2010.

    Since June she has been written of work by her doctor as unfit and the child’s father is not in the picture to assist in anyway so I’ve been raising my grandchild.

    This is not a legal agreement between us however I can get her unfit note from the doctor and a copy of her esa claim and her discharge paper from the mental health unit where she self admitted herself despite being released after one day. She is on anti depressants also.

    My grandsons school is aware of the issues… I’m uncertain if her doc will write a letter to say the child is out of the home as the agreement has been made between us. However he said he will write a letter to say he’s aware of the history and that my daughter has been written of work for the past 5 months, with depression anxiety and panic attacks.

    from McC
  5. Continued…

    I wanted to ask if this was grounds for social reasons to apply to a particular school in my area up the road from me as he resides with me and will do for the foreseeable future.

    from McC
  6. If your child is judged to have a Special Educational Need, this should give her preferential treatment if SEN is on the admissions’ criteria, which it usually is. Do check the criteria.

    from francisgilbert
  7. The LEA are obliged to provide your child with a school place in the nearest school with places that are not filled. Sounds very difficult all round, but it sounds like you are very “clued up” as well, so I would suggest keep persisting, but you will have to be patient.

    from francisgilbert
  8. This sounds like a very difficult situation. You should speak to the relevant person at your grandson’s school as often as you can to keep them in the loop.

    from francisgilbert
  9. Ah, I see why you are writing to me now! I think you will have to be “upfront” about this with the school and write down what you have told me on the admissions’ form. The school will have to make a judgement about this based on the facts they have. But it seems to make sense for you to apply for a place nearest to you because this is in the child’s best interests. You must keep the focus upon the child’s best interests. I would seek advice from your LA too.

    from francisgilbert
  10. I think appealing again is worth a shot. You must keep the focus upon the fact that you meet the Admissions’ Criteria, and that the suffering incurred upon your child greatly outweighs the trouble for the school in admitting your child; keep the focus positive; point out the unique policies, facilities, teaching approaches which only your preferred school can offer; it’s worth investigating what they uniquely do which would, in your view, uniquely meet the needs of your child. Good luck.

    from francisgilbert
  11. Hi
    we moved to a new area with a school three doors away. I have two children one in year five who was offered a place which puts them over numbers but was acceptable. however my problem is my second child is in reception and is under special needs but am told this is not big enough to prioritise him and unless we win an appeal he could wait another eighteen months? The school is under the umbrella from Government for not exceeding numbers in lower years. My mother usually takes them to school which was one reason for moving so close, however the only places offered is one too significant a climb for a five year old in all weathers due to severity of climb and the other was not in his interests educationally and I was concerned it would put him back educationally given his issues with learning. We foster and have to travel to other schools hence why my mother takes the children to school, she has an issue with her knee at present so distance when walking is an issue and my son is really wanting to be with his sibling at school, do I have any chance with this appeal if so what should I say in my appeal?
    Many Thanks

    from sarah davies
  12. Does the school have a SEN clause in its admissions’ criteria? Most schools do, or maybe the borough does. You should have a strong case here; you need to show that the school UNIQUELY can meet the UNIQUE needs for your child; look carefully at its policies, facilities for SEN etc, and then get a case together showing how the school UNIQUELY meets your child’s needs, and how you meet the admissions’ criteria of the school. The school has to admit your child in law if the suffering incurred by your child NOT going to the school OUTWEIGHS the trouble incurred on the school if it admits your child. I hope that’s clear. Anything to do with YOUR needs etc will NOT count; focus upon your child. Good luck.

    from francisgilbert
  13. Hi Our Grandson has just been turned down for a private school. He has a EHC Plan. They feel he wouldn’t be able to access the curriculum at the school.
    Can we appeal?

    from Mary
  14. You can’t appeal a decision made by a private school unless they have a special procedure for that. They can do what they want basically, and are not bound by government legislation over this issue.

    from francisgilbert
  15. Hallo there, we will be going to appeal for our son who has Aspergers, but no statement (his issues are mainly social skills, anxiety, dyspraxia, but not academic) at a secondary school that has a specialist centre for ASD children. We are fairly happy that we can present a decent case on SEN grounds, but don’t know where to begin on arguing that the school can accept another child without it affecting others’ education. How can we possibly provide evidence for such? I really appreciate your thoughts on this. With kindest regards,

    from Kirsten
  16. Hi may daughter has been suffering from epilepsi since 4 but over the years we have managed to control her epilepsi until last year for a few weeks she started forgetting things, things like where she was going, who she is and where she was. Unfortunately when I applied I didn’t include the supporting medical documents.

    I want to appeal to the school that she didn’t get a place, on the basis that the school she got offered in is too far and due to her condition we are worried that her Epilepsi may affect her travel to school. Her EEG is still active so she can still have these symptoms. If she goes to a school close by we can take her there and bring her back. She has been taken off the SEN register but she still has no friends, lacks in social skills and has been bullied in school for being different. I’m worried one day she will forget where she is and wont be able to come back home, or she’ll forget which bus to catch or she’ll be bullied in the bus, she panics in congested places, doesn’t like going up and down unknown stairs and escalators. Being close will mean she wont have that problem because we can pick her and drop her off.

    What chances do we have?

    from Jubeda
  17. I would have thought you have a strong case: schools are supposed to give priority to children with Special Needs. It’s worth considering her for a statement if you have not done so. If you meet the admissions’ criteria, I would definitely appeal.

    from francisgilbert
  18. The school could employ more teachers etc if you can prove that the trouble suffered by your child by not getting a place outweighs the trouble incurred upon the school in not admitting your son. You’ll need to show how the school can uniquely address the needs of your child; look at their SEN policies etc to do this.

    from francisgilbert
  19. Hi, my son didn’t get into his first choice reception (he currently attends the nursery). My son doesn’t like change and I always have to spend much more time than an average child explaining things and constantley reassuring him. The school already has 31 children admitted (they accepted twins). I’ve heard the only way I could win the appeal is if I can prove the process wasn’t followed correctly? How can I prove this? Unless I get the names/addresses of where people live which obviously due to data protection I can’t. Is it true that if you appeal you automatically reach the top of the schools waiting list? Thanks in advance.

    from Carly
  20. That’s incorrect information. You will win the appeal if you can prove that you meet the admissions’ criteria of the school, and show that the suffering incurred upon your child by not getting a place outweighs the trouble incurred upon the school for taking him/her. The school will be forced to get another teacher if you win and make an extra class etc. It’s worth appealing.

    from francisgilbert

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