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.


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  1. Hi Francis

    I am moving 100 miles away to live closer to my parents. I have two children, one in nursery and another in year 2 and I feel the change will be good for us all as we feel very isolated. After ringing the admissions team and doing some research it seems every school in the preferred area is over subscribed. I am really worried as the one school where my nieces and nephews attend was ideally my first choice school but I’ve currently no chance. I hope to find work and was relying on my sisters to help with school run as their children attend sais school.

    My older son is painfully shy, was selectively mute in nursery and tends to develop tics at the start of every academic year since. They are anxiety related and he struggles greatly with change. However he is not SEN so have no written evidence to show in case of an appeal. Could I still use this?

    from Sarah
  2. Hi I am hoping you can advise.

    My youngest son (H) has and EHCP and he has downs syndrome. We applied to the school we felt could best meet his needs although it is 5 mile from our home, however he has been offered a place and he will start in sept 2017. This is the tricky bit … We hope that our eldest son (J) can also attend the school however we know that that particular year group are at their maximum currently at 30. (The school has an official LCC PAN of 25 for each year group, although can increase to 30 for each year group if appropriate. ) Having said this his current school have an PAN of 30 and there are 31 in class. I believe I can only appeal on grounds of sibling link to try to get him accepted and it is so very important to us that the boys go to the same school for emotional and practical reasons. When I addressed this issue with the Head teacher she seemed quite confident that on the grounds of sibling link we could perhaps win an appeal. Having researched more about this issue it seems that her opinion may be invalid and I now fear that our case may look weak at appeal considering we chose a school which we knew was already full for my eldest year group. I hope that his makes sense!? What would you advise?

    from NS
  3. Hi,

    We have appealed after having found out that the school my son was allocated (our 2nd choice) allows kids to bring nuts to school. My son has a severe nut allergy and although of secondary school age and able to manage a lot better in terms of making sure he doesn’t eat any food containing nuts, this still worries us. The school, which was our first choice has a strong no nuts at school policy. I have a letter from GP confirming he needs nut free environment. Has anybody won appeal on this kind of medical evidence alone?

    from K Scott
  4. I don’t know about this. I think you’d need to show more general points like the way in which the preferred school uniquely meets your child’s educational needs as well, e.g. its SEND/G and T provision etc. But it’s worth a shot…

    from francisgilbert
  5. Yes, the sibling link is a good one. You need to show vitally how your preferred school uniquely meets your child’s needs and that the trouble incurred upon the school by getting an additional teacher/resources etc to admit your child is greatly outweighed by the suffering incurred upon your child (not you) if he does not get a place.

    from francisgilbert
  6. Get your child assessed ASAP! Ask the SENCO at your child’s school to do this; you have a legal right to this assessment if you are worried with good cause — which I think you are. Then you need to show how your preferred school uniquely meets your child’s needs over and above the other schools.

    from francisgilbert
  7. Short answer, no. You need to meet the individual admissions’ criteria for each school. The only exception is that the other school has the same 11+ requirement in which case you could show that they have already passed etc.

    from francisgilbert
  8. Hi Francis Can you help. My wife and I recently separated. We own two houses so I moved into the second house. with six month all my three children moved in with me. My daughters go to a local private school within walking distance from where we live.
    My youngest son travels quite away to school and is doing 11 hours days with travelling.
    I applied to a very good local school within walking distance from where live and was invited to apply. I was then asked to show where the child benefit was paid as they saw that we were living apart. I replied that my wife received the payment. With this they retracted the offer on the grounds that the benefit has to be paid to me at the address where we live at the time of application. Is this far? We invited them round to see for themselves. But they just go on the waiting list or appeal.
    What advise can you give?

    from Mark Broadhurst
  9. Hi- I am appealing for my son do you think we stand a shot? We live out of catchment but he currently attends a feeder school which is part of the admissions criteria(4th in priority). The feeder school is right next door to the middle school and his two younger brothers go there. But that isn’t my main concern for wanting him to go there. He has ADHD, autistic traits, dyslexia and suffers anxiety. The two schools have a very good working relationship and the pastoral care would help him transition much easier as it will be difficult for him and he struggles with changes. All of his friends are going there and he is at risk of bullying because of his unusual traits but they all accept him and stand up for him. He was also given a school that the only way for him to attend would be by bus and he is not capable of handling on his own. He doesn’t pay attention to his environment, gets lost easily and very vulnerable. He would also have to take medication almost an hour earlier which would mean it would run out before he finished school and then have a 40 minute bus ride home unmediated and at risk of behavioural issues and his impulsivity being more pronounced (risk of running into the road for example). Is my case strong enough? He is academically doing alright and therefore the school doesn’t think he needs an EHCP but his executive functioning is where he really struggles. Thanks

    from Amy Smith
  10. Hi my daughter currently attends a co-ed primary school and the school in my catchment that I really want her to go to for secondary is an all girls school. It was over subscribed this year and based on location we would not have got in. If I need to appeal, what grounds could I appeal on? This year the school only went as far as 2.1 miles and we are 3.09. I don’t feel I have a strong enough argument just to say that I want her to go to an all girls school. Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you.

    from Natalie Degiorgio Maclaren
  11. It’s worth appealing on the grounds you set out, but you need to show that your preferred school uniquely meets your child’s needs in terms of its policies/resources etc as well.

    from francisgilbert
  12. You would need to show that you meet the admissions’ criteria for the girls’ school, if that’s distance then it’s unlikely you will succeed…

    from francisgilbert
  13. It’s worth appealing and honestly saying where your child is living. Good luck.

    from francisgilbert

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