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

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