How you can win your school appeal

10 June 2009
The Times and The Sunday 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. 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 Francis, my son has just bn refused his reception place. He is in 17 place. However they were supposed to measure the quickest safest route to school and they didn’t know we use a different exit from our flats which when I measured it brings us 20metres into the catchment ARea of this year. If I can prove this is the correct distance is this worth appealing? The software they use to measure may differ to the apps downloadable as I measured the route they measured and it reads 680metres whilst they state it’s 756metres . My quickest route on all the available measuring apps is 630metres yet 649.49 is the catchment distance.
    It would be great if he could get this school as he’s brother is two and their father lives on a boat the other side of the school. I also have a newborn and it would be less stressful as I’d get help from the boys dad. The school they offered me is slightly closer but the other direction and the ofsted report doesn’t look good. Thanks for any advice. Laura

    from laura
  20. 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
  21. 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
  22. Hi I’m after advice as a parent I suffer from agrophobia n find getting mybchild to school almost impossible but I keep trying and because ive been doing it for a year its getting a little easier I applied for place in reception with medical evidence stating for her well being she needed that school I was rejected I want to fight appeal and have backing from professional is Thi a good case for appeal any advice wud b great

    from kris
  23. Hi Francis,
    We are trying to mount an appeal on the basis that we are a same sex couple and have consequently tried to find schools that have an open and inclusive ethos. We applied to schools that have a broad teaching style and where our son will be made to feel that his home dynamics although different are normal and when set projects or discussion within the school to do with families that his will be included in the broad spectrum such as references to parents as opposed to mum and dad etc. The school we put down has an inclusive coordinator as deputy head who we understand has the role of ensuring all children from whichever minority background has an inclusive school experience which is of paramount importance to us. This is just the brink, they also have a very stringent bullying policy and with an inclusive coordinator we believe that she will be aware of any particularly vulnerable children or children who have the higher potential of experiencing bullying. The school we have been allocated is a C of E school who have worship and include prayers in the assembly etc, with the Church stance on our home dynamics we are concerned that our son will potentially be exposed to a non-inclusive environment in basic areas and will feel uncomfortable in being honest about his home dynamics. The worship and prayer could expose him to negative reflection on his home life which could be very detrimental to him. Although we don’t want special treatment we honestly believe it is not in his best interest to intend this school and would like to appeal to the school with the inclusive coordinator on the basis of what that school can offer. Do you think we could appeal on the ground of social/emotional needs?
    Many thanks in advance.

    from Mel
  24. hi francis, your article is interesting and I thought you may be able to offer some unbiased advice. we recently moved to a new area and applied for a school which is nearest us but not actually our catchment. we were advised it was full to capacity and had to take our second choice. we were top of the waiting list for the last 4 months. This term we were informed that a place which was offered but deferred until the child was 5 was now free as the child didn’t turn up at the start of term. the place was released. However 2 days before this date somebody else joined above our daughter so it was offered to them (although the local authority had already advised me they were unlikely to take it because they couldn’t accommodate a sibling at the same school). As expected they declined. In the meantime another person joined the list and was above us and the place was offered to her. Even though she joined the list 2 days after the place was released and never accepted by the first people. The place was offered and accepted to her. We have an appeal date but I wondered if you could offer any advice as we feel this was an unfair and perverse decison. Are there ny rules on the local authority making regular contact with parents who defer places to check it is still wanted? Our daughter has eplipesy and a school careplan and we want her to be in school which is close to us as possible (not 2 miles through town) incase she has a seizure so we are able to get to the school. We were told by local admissions that this makes no difference? any advice would be helpful. thanks

    from Tina
  25. Hi,appealing for my daughter who didn’t pass entrance exam for the local GS. I was unable to focus on her and didn’t prepare her for the exams as I was in and out of court for personal reasons 2 yrs prior to her 11+exams. Even though there was a positive outcome for me in Nov 2015 & everything was put to bed, my daughter as well my 3 kids suffered with what I went through and my solicitor has confirmed that what happened to me would have without doubt affected my daughter as well as her siblings as she was starved of the natural attention. let alone preparation for exams Now,my daughter is G&T for English and top groups for Maths at primary school . In yr 5 end of yr report she achieved 2 5b’s and 25c’s she is also Free School Meals where stats show FSM kids are lagging behind. The school we want shows that 100% FSM girls get GCSE grades A*-C where as the one offered is only 46%.Also school is single gender which we want for religious reasons. They also offer Spanish which the offered school does not. Her predicted KS2 are secure+ (top) for English and Maths. All her 3 brothers GS and her 2 best friends who sit with her in the top group have got a place, but then they were tutored and because of what happened to me ( I’ve been attending 2 different groups to help with my depression and excessive eating disorder because of this) my focus was on one thing made worse as I am a single working mum who is now at a better place than I was a few months back 🙁

    from Downbutnotoutmum:)
  26. Francis, do u think it’s worth appealing and am I barking up the wrong tree for reasons for wanting the school as I’ve never had to appeal before?

    from Downbutnotoutmum:)
  27. Hi Francis, hope your well.

    We just lost our appeal for the school we wanted our daughter to go. My reason for appeal was I had already a son in that school and travelling to two schools was going to be difficult. They said that my ground for appealing against the decision failed to outweigh the prejudice that would be caused through the admission of a further child to the child.

    I wanted to know if there was any other option for us, is there any other step we can take.

    I have 4 children and all 4 will be going to different schools and nursery. I don’t drive.

    Any advise will be helpful
    Thanking you in advance.

    from Ghazala Altaf
  28. Hi Francis,

    We just lost our appeal for the school we wanted our daughter to go to. My reason for appeal was I had already a son in that school and travelling to two schools was going to be difficult. They said that my ground for appealing against the decision failed to outweigh the prejudice that would be caused through the admission of a further child to the child.

    I wanted to know if there was any other option for us, is there any other step we can take.

    I have 4 children and all 4 will be going to different schools and nursery. I don’t drive.

    Any advise will be helpful

    from Ghazala Altaf
  29. Hi, my daughter didn’t get into her first choice reception (she currently attends the nursery), my mom has medical history and old lady, who usually drops and picks my daughter from school, its just few minutes walking distance, and GP few min away, just in case if any appointments/emergency she can go to GP and drop her at school, its a faith school and we are also faith as we provided our faith letter.
    Am i right to appeal

    from NS
  30. Hi,
    My daughter is a forces child and has been to 3 schools in 5yrs. She first left nursery in N.Ireland for a forces Primary School in Germany (2009), which taught the English curriculum and was put in the wrong year due to her age (birthday in August). As a result she lost all her confidence and her learning suffered as she had not learnt the basics. We then moved 2yrs later to a school in England (2011) where again she had a lack of confidence which greatly affected her capacity to learn. She was a very unhappy child who dreaded going to school. A major factor adding to this was that I was away in Afghanistan and she worried quite a lot without me being there to help or reassure her. She did the Yr5 SATs and did not score high enough to be graded. We then moved back to N.Ireland (2014) returning back to the same school that she went to nursery back in 2009. We noticed that within 3-6months she was like a different child, happy, gaining in confidence and above all enjoying school. She had 7months learning the N.Ireland curriculum before having to sit three AQE tests for Post Primary school (criteria for the Grammar school we wanted to send her to). Erin achieved an outstanding mark of 94 (bearing in mind that she never had tutoring like the rest of her friends had as there were non available that we could afford). The school have accepted children who scored 102 and above. They accepted that she qualified for “Special Provisions” as per their criteria and the Board of Governors awarded her an extra 4pts taking her score to 98. Still short of the Grade and thus not being accepted a place. ALL of her friends attained scores above the 102 mark and have been accepted. She is devastated and is showing signs already that she is losing her confidence and desire to go to school. Her end of year grades put her level or ABOVE most of her friends and proves that she has the ability but has not yet reached her full potential. I do not believe that the Board of Governors gave enough consideration to the disruption that she has suffered or her potential when awarding only 4 extra points. I say this when for special circumstances (children with doctors notes for being ill for one/two of the tests were awarded 1/3pts) We are appealing but after ANY advice that you could give us.

    from Peter Bell
  31. Yes, definitely appeal using the Special Circumstances issue. You could possibly get her judged as EBD (Emotional Behavioural Difficulties) and put on the SEN register, this often helps win appeals as most schools have SEN as admissions criteria. She may not be badly behaved, but her emotional difficulties are meaning she is finding the work more difficult than most. Good luck!

    from francisgilbert
  32. Yes definitely appeal if you meet the faith criteria. A bit mysterious as to why you were rejected.

    from francisgilbert
  33. You can go to the Ombudsman and complain:

    This DfE page is worth looking at:

    from francisgilbert
  34. Check this website out and think about it:

    from francisgilbert
  35. Yes, appeal on the grounds outlined above that the test score did not reflect her true ability. Good luck!

    from francisgilbert
  36. Your daughter’s health should be factored in. Definitely appeal. An independent appeal panel may well feel differently:

    from francisgilbert
  37. Yes, if you can show that the school uniquely addresses your child’s unique needs and no other school can, based on its policies, then you should appeal.

    from francisgilbert
  38. The school will not take your circumstances into consideration, only your child’s. You need show that you meet the schools’ admissions’ code.

    from francisgilbert
  39. You can tell the school about this, but not in an appeal. If you appeal you must show that you meet the school’s admissions’ criteria.

    from francisgilbert
  40. Hi not sure which answer was for me

    from kris
  41. My youngest son has been refused a reception place at my eldest son’s school despite him being a sibling, as siblings out of area are lower priority than local children. This is understandable however the reason we are applying to this school ‘out of area’ is because the local authority allocated my eldest son a school place in this town four years ago. The infant school he attended is a feeder to his current school, and hence we are now caught up in the school system out of our area. The school place we have been allocated is 3 miles in the opposite direction to our house and 5 miles away from my eldest son’s school. As we are in a busy part of outer London this journey is impossible in the morning as it requires us to cross 4 town centres and two river Thames bridges. I am also a teacher and work even further away from our allocated school. I cannot drop both children on time and will not be able to get to work either. My sons have built their lives up in the new town where my youngest is at pre school. He has had hearing problems and has taken a long time to settle and make friends. He will not know anyone at the new school, nor do I have a support network in that area or any childcare. The new school has a breakfast club but that only opens at 7:45 so this isn’t an option. I know I must appeal based on the uniqueness of the chosen school but surely this is significant? Also that we are in this situation because of the system not our own choosing? Any advice would be great.

    from Kay
  42. This one:

    from francisgilbert
  43. Definitely appeal, and explain this to the panel. Sounds like you’ve got a strong case. Show where you can that you have addressed the schools’ admissions code/criteria. Good luck.

    from francisgilbert
  44. My son lived in Germany (forces family) from the age of 4years to the age of 9 years, he attended an English school, he had friends and did really well, they studied German from nursery age. My son loves German language, and was devastated when we moved back and the primary schools that he could attend only did French. My son is very shy and has taken 18 months to make a friend. We are now trying to find a school that teaches German as my son has continued to learn from home but would like to do GCSE and A Level German. Our problem is that our catchment school only do French and Spanish. The school that does German is less than 2 miles away and we are literally 2 meters outside the catchment area. This is also the school that my Sons friend will attend. I think being separated from his friend and being unable to study the language that he has had to study up until last year is going to really knock his confidence. He doesn’t go out and it takes him ages to make a friend. His dad is still in Germany but we moved back so that the children’s education would not be interrupted as they got older. I know we won’t get a place at our chosen school but do we have any hope of we appeal? Any advice or opinions welcome please.

  45. Hi I wonder if you can assist

    Can I ask about social and medical reasons, at an appeal do they actually talk about specific schools in the area and compare them against the school you have applied for?

    Can they argue schools in other boroughs are suitable?

    If I have placed one school on my list for another borough would they then compare all the schools in that borough even if it is not my borough?

    I am compiling evidence as I go through open evenings and it is obvious to me that other schools will not suit my child for a variety of reasons but I do not want to be to specific about those schools as it feels disrespectful but I will bring that very specific evidence into the appeal. Should I be very specific why certain schools will not cater for my child. ?

    from jo
  46. The main thing is you have to prove that you meet the admissions’ criteria for your preferred school and how that uniquely meets your child’s needs. Being negative about other schools won’t get you anywhere. You need to look closely at the admissions’ criteria.

    from francisgilbert
  47. You could appeal for your preferred school, but unless you meet the admissions’ criteria for that school, it’s unlikely you will get in. It’s always worth an appeal though because independent panels do listen to this kind of thing.

    from francisgilbert
  48. Thank you for your quick response. I completely agree re the comment being negative about other schools, I just find the wording confusing sometimes as they want to know why that school and that school alone can cater for your child. Reading the appeals that went to ombudsman it has given me a greater insight into the process that goes on after and has provided a few tips that will hopefully mean it will not go that far.
    I feel like I am buying a house I have seen once, how the poor 10 year olds feel I have no idea. I do not remember it being this stressful for us as children.

    A few tips for parents before appeal if you don’t mind be writing are,

    the more research you do on the schools, looking at websites and reviews, etc etc will hopefully give you more confidence that the school you choose is the right one. I have also seen parents in a zombie like fashion walking round the schools not asking questions of the children that are showing them round and basically just looking at the walls. Ask lots of questions, what do they do for children that struggle, what do they do for children that achieve highly, what after school clubs are there, when can you use the library before and after school, what happens if you are late for a lesson or don’t have your pens with you, show me your timetable, what GCSE’s can you take here, are you happy, do you feel safe in school, what happens if you need someone to go to, are the forms vertical, at single sex schools ask how the children feel about it (I got some great responses from that question) . Ask the children where they are from, how they get to school. I got some great information from the students.

    Some schools give you their best students and some allow children with social issues that do have problems in school show you round what does that say about the school. Go the year before without your children and look round this will give you a great idea of what to look for and give you more confidence in the following year. Go to the meetings that the admissions team hold for the year 5’s in year 4 see what they say but be mindful the admissions for each school could change.

    Make notes at all schools for yourself and for any appeals. I realised that one a bit late.

    Well thanks again

    from jo
  49. Dear Jo, Thanks very much for these points, they are very helpful. Best Francis

    from francisgilbert
  50. Hi, my child has passed the grammar school entrance exam and has been told he would be accepted. However, we are quite a distance away and don’t think that it’s feasible for him to travel there. Would the fact that he has been offered a place there help if we put this fact on the application form for another school? Would it have any influence on them accepting him? Thanks

    from Tony

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