How to appeal if your child doesn’t get a place at your first choice school

This month (March) local authorities send out their decisions regarding the allocation of school places for September 2012.

In previous years around 20% of parents across the UK have not got an offer for the school they wanted. And this year is unlikely to be any better.

So what do you do if the outcome is not what you wanted and your child has not been allocated a place in the reception or secondary school of your choice?

Laura Berman is an associate solicitor and heads up Fisher Meredith’s PSL (Public and Social Welfare Law) Department. Laura has extensive experience working on school admission appeals both at primary and secondary level and has helped many parents appeal against the decisions of local authorities and successfully get their children into the school of their choice.

Laura has the following advice if you are disappointed with the outcome of your application and you wish to appeal.

1) It is advisable, in most cases, to choose one and only one school to appeal to. You need to decide on your preferred school and think about the reasons you have for appealing to that school. In doing so you need to consider the admissions criteria for the school and the reason why your child has been refused a place there.

Remember that there are some common criteria that schools use to decide on the allocation of places when they are over subscribed. Some of these include having a sibling at the school, having a social or medical need, living within a catchment area, belonging to a particular faith, attending a feeder primary school, partial selection by aptitude or banding. It is likely that your child has been refused a place at the school of your choice because they have failed to fulfil one or more of these criteria.

2) Lodge your intention to appeal within the deadline set by the school. You will be able to submit a detailed case statement and supporting evidence when you are informed of the date of the hearing. You will be given at least 14 days notice of this.

Your ‘grounds of appeal’ or ‘case statement’ should start with an introduction to yourself, your ties to the area, whether you have other children at the school etc. and then set out your grounds of appeal.

Panels like to see well researched and rational parents who are rejecting the school offered for valid and evidenced reasons. Think about why your child has been refused a place. Consider the following areas:

Distance – Check how distances are measured and from which point to which point. Check the distance of your home from the school and the “cut-off” distance. Think about the journey your child will make. Consider the safety and security of the route and the implications of your child making the journey e.g. getting up early and returning late or missing opportunities to make local friends.

Single sex – State your reasons for your preference and quote research on how single sex schools fare better academically.

Faith – State your reasons for your preference. Has your child attended a faith primary and are they involved in the faith outside of school? If you failed to demonstrate sufficient religious commitment check the “test” set by the school.

Medical – Are there any medical reasons that necessitate your child going to your preferred school? Evidence must be provided which should specifically address why your child ought to attend that particular school.

School strengths – Match your preferred school’s strengths and specialisms to your child’s talents or passions. Check the school’s Ofsted report, website and prospectus. Look at the facilities on offer, the after school activities, the ethos, the foreign languages taught etc. Compare the school you want with the one that has been offered. ALWAYS visit the schools even if you have no intention of sending your child there.

Family trauma – your child’s emotional state is important.

Bullying – This must be evidenced.

Childcare issues – Set out your work arrangements and consider the availability of breakfast and after school clubs.

Friends – If most of your child’s friends are attending the school or your child will not know anyone at the school offered, then this needs to be covered. Link this point, if appropriate, with the fact that your child is sensitive and vulnerable and will need the stability of a close friend to settle well and fulfil their potential.

3) You will receive the school’s case at least 7 working days before the hearing. It must refer to the accommodation of the school, its class sizes and its net capacity.

By picking holes in the prejudice case you can strengthen your case. Find out the numbers in all their current year groups. If some years are over the admission number you can argue that the school has done it before without causing prejudice. If an oversubscribed school is performing well you can argue how well they cope with increased numbers and therefore against prejudice. You can also check whether any recent or planned building work may free up space.

4) The appeal is a two-stage process. First, the panel will consider the school’s ‘prejudice’ case. The school will need to show that the admission of one more child will prejudice the efficient education of other children or the efficient use of resources. If the school succeeds in showing prejudice then the panel will go on to conduct a balancing exercise between the strength of the school’s prejudice case and the parents’ personal reasons for appealing.

The law limits infant class sizes to 30 children for every teacher. For this reason success rates for these appeals are low.
In this type of appeal the school needs to show that it will have to take ‘qualifying measures’ to accommodate an extra child such as employing another teacher or finding more space. If the panel accept this then there are only 2 grounds on which an infant class size appeal can be successful.

• Did the admissions authority follow its own criteria? If not the appeal will only succeed if your child would have been admitted had the criteria been properly applied.
• Was the decision one that a reasonable admission authority would make in the circumstances? I.e. was the decision completely illogical or not based on the facts?

To improve your chances of success the key is to bolster and strengthen your personal reasons for appealing as well as finding ways to pick holes in the school’s prejudice case.

5) Appeals are heard by a panel of 3 people independent of the school in question with at least one lay member and at least one member with experience of education. A clerk will explain basic procedures, ensure any evidence is presented and may intervene to assist the panel. The clerk will notify you of the decision. You are entitled to bring someone along to the hearing.

You should get the result within 5 working days. The letter should indicate if prejudice was established, refer to the 2 stage process and if relevant, explain why the parental representations did not outweigh the school’s prejudice case.

6) What else can you do?

Ask to be put on the school’s waiting list.

Collect evidence. A letter from your child’s teacher or head teacher to support your appeal will help. Ask them to say what your child is good at and to be specific about what how they would benefit from attending the school you are appealing to.

CASE STUDY:

Laura recently helped the mother of a primary school child. They successfully appealed the local authority’s decision not to place him in their first choice of secondary school.

The child, referred to as ‘D’ was popular and had achieved well in his primary years, however, he was also an extremely anxious and sensitive child who had feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem.

He had suffered some bullying in his primary school and had been referred to CAMHS for some counselling in relation to his self-esteem.

Evidence was received to the effect that any undue stress could well undermine the advances he had made over the year he had received counselling.

D was not offered a place in his preferred secondary school – a small school close to his home which had an excellent pastoral care system. Instead he was offered a place at a large comprehensive secondary quite far from his home which would mean him having an arduous and tiring journey there and back every day. In addition this school had a troubled past and reputation for bullying.

His mother was a single parent in full time employment.

Laura helped D’s mother from the outset with her admission appeal. She advised her on her strongest grounds of appeal and drafted a comprehensive document setting them out clearly. Laura also included a discussion of the relevant admission criteria and how they had been applied to D, plus references to recent case law. D’s mother was also advised on obtaining supporting evidence.

Laura met with D’s mother again to explain the meaning of the school’s case statement and how it could be challenged. She helped to prepare D’s mother for the hearing day itself and for questions the Appeal Panel may ask her.

When D’s mother attended the hearing to challenge the school, Laura was there to provide support. The Panel upheld D’s appeal and he was offered a place at the school of his choice.

***

About the Author:
Laura Berman is an associate solicitor and heads up Fisher Meredith’s PSL (Public and Social Welfare Law) Department. Laura has extensive experience working on school admission appeals both at primary and secondary level.
Laura specialises in Education Law providing legal advice to children, students and parents in connection with any problem they may face relating to their education. She deals with a wide range of issues including school admissions and exclusions, complaints to school governors, bullying, disability discrimination, appeals to the Special Educational Need and Disability (SEND) Tribunal, and complaints with higher education establishments.
Fisher Meredith offers a wide range of consumer legal services which include; Children Law, Conveyancing, Court of Protection and Community Care Law, Criminal & Fraud, Dispute Resolution, Education, Employment, Family Law, Human Rights, Immigration, Wills & Probate.

For more information: www.fishermeredith.co.uk / 020 7091 2700

3 Comments on How to appeal if your child doesn’t get a place at your first choice school

  1. Amanda Smith // March 10, 2012 at 8:50 am // Reply

    For readers – please note that some of the information in this article is now out of date, as a result of the new appeals code. Timetable for various things has changed, and a some tweaks to the two stage process itself have been made (see eg new second stage in infant class size appeals)

    Generally helpful article, but could Fisher Meredith update accordingly?

    Hope this helps!
    School appeal mum

  2. cathi mckillop // April 17, 2015 at 4:44 pm // Reply

    My son has been refused a place at our catchment school. We have another son there already. These are two of the criteria which we match. I applied 10 days after the deadline – a genuine mistake – I just logged on to apply and found that the deadline had passed. Does this put me in a different position or is the very useful info above still relevant to me?
    Many thanks.
    Cathi

  3. karen birch // April 20, 2015 at 2:46 pm // Reply

    Hi Cathi, can I suggest that you contact Laura directly, quoting this article.
    She is available via http://www.fishermeredith.co.uk / 020 7091 2700
    Thank you

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