It's a nightmare, you have to send your child to school (unless he is being educated at home in an approved manner) so it stands to reason that your child has a right to a school place between the ages of five and 16. Your local educational authority (LEA) must offer your child a school place within a reasonable commuting distance, but he school they want to send him/her to is too far away or is unacceptable.
As a parent you have the right to say which school you would like your child to attend but this does not guarantee a place in the school if it is over-subscribed.
This article aims to help you through what can be a worrying time if your child can not get into the school you want.
First, a bit of background information.
All schools have priorities when it comes to admissions, obviously, the exact criteria will vary from school to school but if there are more applicants than places, priority is often given to:
Children who are "looked after" (e.g. are in foster homes etc)
Children who have a brother or sister at the school
Children living closest to the preferred school
Special needs children
Children who are of the same faith as the school
Children of teachers employed continuously at the school
Children who attend a link primary school (if the school is a secondary school)
It is very important that you study the school’s admission criteria carefully (ask the school for a copy). It may be a waste of time choosing a school your child does not have a chance of getting into because they live too far away for example.
For help on the practice of school admissions it would be worth looking at the The Department for Education and Science who have a code of practice on school admissions.
My child has not got into the school I wanted
OK, you know that your child may get into the school but for some reason they haven't. What can you do ?
There are three options open to you if your child does not get admission into the school of your choice.
Accept the second choice
Some educational authorities allow more than two preferences. You can just accept your second choice of school and forget about the first choice.
Appeal against the decision informally
You could simply contact the local education authority or school governing body to talk informally about reversing the decision. This might mean that you avoid the formal appeals process (below). Most education authorities and schools will talk to dissatisfied parents.
In rare cases where the admissions authority (the LEA or school ) has refused a place in error, it may be able to reverse the decision without the need for the parents to go to formal appeal. However, in the majority of cases, the appeals procedure will need to be followed through.
Appeal against the decision formally
You also have the right to appeal against the decision. The initial letter you receive that told you that you had been unsuccessful will provide information on your right to appeal. It will explain what to do next. It will also provide a deadline for you to make the appeal within.
It is worth knowing that you can complain if:
You think your child should have been admitted under the official criteria
You think the criteria are unreasonable or unacceptable
Your child was ill on the day of an examination and they would otherwise have passed
Your child will be unhappy and lonely because all their friends are at the school you couldn't get into.
How can I appeal?
The appeals process should be detailed in the letter you received but can be summarised as :-
1. Write a letter to your local education authority or chair of the Governing body
Depending on the information given in the letter you received rejecting your application you should send a letter to the local education authority or to the chair of the Governing body. Your letter does not have to be long but should include the reasons why you think the decision should be looked at again. It should also include a statement that you wish to refer the decision to the appeals committee. This letter will then start the appeals process.
2. The independent appeals panel
You will then be invited to put your case to an independent appeals panel. Normally appeals are held in late spring to early summer, although if you are moving into a school during the school year it will be held within a few weeks of your letter arriving. You may want to visit your local authority’s web site for advice on how to appeal for admissions and don’t be afraid to talk to an official from the local authority. The panel goes through two main stages.
2.1. The case by the admission authority: The authority will be represented by a governor, head teacher or member of staff from the LEA (called "the presenting officer") and they will explain to the panel why your child was denied a place at the chosen school. You may have a chance to question the representative here. Make sure you come prepared with a list of questions you think need to be answered.
The panel then decides on whether the admissions authority had a good case for turning down your child’s application. If they decide there was a good reason, the second stage of the appeal begins.
2.2. The case by the parents: This is your chance to state why you think the decision was unjustified. You should lay out all the reasons why this particular school is the best for your child and mention any special factors in support of this. Despite the fact that the council have initially won the claim that there was ‘good reason’ for turning you down now it is your turn to convince the panel that your case is stronger than the admission authorities case.
2.3. The panel’s final decision: The panel makes what is called a ‘balancing judgment’ where they weigh up the benefits your child will get from the school against the school's s claim. The appeal panel should contact you with their decision within the next day but you should remember that a decision could take up to seven days if the panel is hearing a number of appeals at once. If the panel decides in your favour the educational authority is obliged to offer your child the place.
The class-size exception
Different rules apply if your admission application has been refused because the school has reached its legal limit of 30 in a class. This limit only applies till the age of seven. In this type of appeal the panel is only allowed to consider two factors:-
If the admission authority stuck to its own published admission rules
Whether the admissions authority behaved unreasonably or irrationally
During the appeal process you should bear in mind that the school or LEA does not have anything against you personally, in fact it is likely that they do not even know who you are. The author has acted as a "presenting officer" on several appeals as a school governor and in the vast majority of the cases the refusal was due to class size and not for any other reason. Nobody on the panel or on the admission authority's side wants you to feel uncomfortable or stressed about the situation (although we all appreciate that you will be stressed) and indeed the panels have gone out of their way to explain the process and try reduce the worry for the parents..
The DfES website has some good information about the school appeals process in England
My appeal has failed - what can I do?
Settle for another school
You may decide to settle for another school of your choice, providing you have indicated you wish to take up the place. If none of your preferred alternative schools have an available space, you will have to contact the schools admissions team in your local authority who will tell you which schools still have vacancies.
Get on the waiting list
You can still ask to be put on the waiting list of the school of your choice.
Contact the local ombudsman
If you are not happy with how the appeal hearing was carried out you could complain to the local government ombudsman. They have the power to order a new appeal.
I don't live in England, what are the differences in Scotland and Northern Ireland ?
The principles and process for admission and appeal are broadly the same right across the United Kingdom but there are some national variations.
If you are unhappy with the appeal panel’s decision you can appeal to the Sheriff against this decision. You have to lodge a ‘summary application’ with the Sheriff Clerk. This is a court procedure and court fees are payable.
The Scottish Executive’s Department of Education has a very comprehensive guide to appealing against school admissions decisions.
If your child is refused admission to a grant-aided school you can appeal to an independent appeal tribunal. An appeal can only be made on the grounds that the admissions criteria to the school were not applied or were incorrectly applied in making the decision.