School Place – Should You Appeal?

This blog is from Ruth Thorogate from Truth Education, Ruth works as a consultant providing families and businesses with educational solutions. We hope you find it useful.

That time of year has come around again, anxious parents are finding out which infant or junior school their child has been allocated a place at. Most children get offered a place at one of their preferred schools, but with many local schools heavily oversubscribed, there will be some who don’t get the news they were hoping for.

If you are one of the lucky ones and are offered a place at one of your preferred schools – phew, you can sit back and relax until September.

If you don’t, here are some thoughts on how to process the news and get the most positive outcome for you, but most importantly your child.

The first question you need to ask yourself is why? Quite simply (unless there has been an error in the allocation process) your preferred school or schools were oversubscribed and more children had a higher priority according to the published admissions criteria, be it siblings, distance or faith. The letter you receive, will outline the reasons why and based on the information supplied, and what you know anecdotally from nursery, friends and neighbours, start to consider whether you have a case to appeal the decision.

Should I Appeal?

Only 10% of appeals go in favour of the parents and appeals are time consuming so you need to be sure you have a good case. If you feel or know that there has been an error in the way your application has been managed or you should have been offered a place according to the published oversubscription criteria, then you have a good case. Examples could include:

  • You already have a child in the school and there is a priority for siblings
  • You know that children that live further away than you but have no higher priority than you have been allocated a place
  • You have doubts about how the admissions process was implemented eg how distances were calculated
  • Medical need: your child’s particular condition needs special consideration and the preferred school has particular expertise/design etc to deal with it.

It is particularly hard to win an appeal for an infant class (Reception, Year 1 or Year2) as the law states that class sizes should not exceed 30 as this would “prejudice” the provision of efficient education and efficient use of resources. Infant classes cannot be larger than 30 without the school taking ‘qualifying measures’ such as employing an extra teacher so your reasons (if not any of the above) need to be very persuasive. Check the admissions policy carefully but bear in mind that each Admissions Authority (Council or Governing Body if a faith school or academy) can decide its own criteria and they do not have to:

  • include “nearest school” as a priority measure (although some do)
  • give absolute priority to siblings although some do and distinguish between catchment/non-catchment siblings.

Remember Local Authorities and popular schools have lots of experience in running appeals with access to legal teams and possibly even a dedicated appeals officer. So you will need to be well prepared.

Schools can only use infant class size prejudice as their reason for not being able to offer a place where their Published Admissions Number (PAN) is 30 or multiples of 30 OR if the PAN is not a multiple of 30 (eg they have mixed year classes) they must prove it would have implications in Y1 or 2. The Appeal Panel has no discretion to consider if school can take more than 30, so you need to successfully challenge the grounds for infant class size prejudice (eg the school has capacity in terms of space and / or human resources) and then just fight an ordinary prejudice appeal. You need to be sure that the infant class size prejudice is the claim being made by the Admissions Authority and they need to prove their case – if they fail to do so then it becomes a normal prejudice appeal.

How to prepare your case? If you are sure you have a good chance of success at appeal then maximise your chances by doing the following:

  • Make note of the key dates and deadlines as supplied in the letter you get.
  • Keep copies of everything and photocopy anything you send. Get proof of posting for paperwork. Record details of any telephone conversations in as much detail as possible especially if you think the Head or someone at LA says something which suggests you should have had a place.
  • Prepare your case thoroughly as both sides submit papers in advance so you will have time to see what the Admission’s Authority’s case is and they will see yours. Do not leave key information out as it will not be allowed to be submitted on the day.

The Appeal Panel will look at your case in three stages so your submission should be structured in the same way:

  • Were admissions criteria correctly applied. If not, and if they had been, would your child have a place?
  • If the criteria were correctly applied is the school full?
  • If it is full, and infant class size is not an issue, a “balancing exercise” will weigh problems faced by child by not going to that school against the problems faced by the school in admitting an extra pupil.

To get a positive outcome in the balancing exercise, you will need to demonstrate to the panel that PAN does not reflect school’s capacity eg previous good results with greater number of children or recent building work which might increase available teaching space.

You will also need to explain why your child will suffer greatly if not admitted – you will need real and genuine problems which go beyond inconvenience, upset, distance or transport issues. These are not strong enough reasons on their own. Include submissions from witnesses – GP/Consultant if a medical need; employer etc

The Panel must decide if the Admissions Authority has made its case for infant class size prejudice. If they decide no case has been made then it becomes an ordinary prejudice appeal and the hearing moves onto the balancing stage. But if the panel agree it is a case of infant class size prejudice then their options are limited and they can only allow appeal if it is satisfied that:

  • Your child would have been offered a place if the admissions arrangements had been properly implemented and/or
  • The decision to refuse admission was unreasonable under the definition used in the School Admission Appeals Code which states the refusal to admit the child was “perverse in the light of the admission arrangements” i.e. it was “beyond the range of responses open to a reasonable decision maker”. So again, it will need to be a pretty convincing argument on your behalf.

Who will make the decision? The vast majority of panellists are truly independent of LA / school. Panels are told to recognise the anxiety felt by parents so use this opportunity to speak directly to the people who will decide on your child’s future as well as asking questions to the Admissions Authority representatives. Even if you have nothing to add to your written submission, say so but draw attention to the key points so they are foremost in their minds when they make their judgement.

Their decision will not be made until the hearing is over. If it is deemed that the admissions criteria were not followed and/or a mistake was made then you will get a place even if that takes the class over 30. In many cases these mistakes are acknowledged before an appeal hearing, unless many children are in the same position and the school cannot cope in which case they will want an Appeal Panel to decide how many and who should get additional places.

If there are several cases outweigh prejudice and merit admission, but the panel determines school could not cope, panel must compare cases and decide which to uphold.

Be careful what you say in your arguments! Do not be disparaging about the school you have been allocated – this doesn’t reflect well on you and also may lead you into unnecessary arguments. When you address issue of your allocated school be factual and polite – do not express opinions and try and turn questions back to the school you are appealing a place for. Make sure you have visited your allocated school so you can talk from your own experience not “hearsay”

Go through main points of the Admissions Authority’s case that you dispute and point out weaknesses you have exposed. Highlight strengths of your case drawing attention to the points you want them to go away with.

Remind everyone that this is about your child. Personalise your case as much as you can and explain how much it matters to you that they go to this particular school.

You should hear the outcome of your appeal within 5 working days. The letter should explain clearly the process the panel went through indicating the various stages and the judgement reached.

You cannot make a second appeal in respect of same school and year of entry unless there are significant changes to your application so you need to decide whether to continue to fund your own legal battle or accept that you are not going to get your child into that school. In which case, unless you are going to go private or home school, you should accept the place you have to stay in the system but also:

  • Find out from LA what other schools have vacancies in case any are a better fit for your work/commute.
  • Go on the waiting lists any additional schools that you would be happy to get a place at. You will automatically be put on the lists for schools you were unsuccessful for in your original application.

And finally,

  • Be patient there will be significant “movement” in coming months as places are declined; people move up wait lists due to parents opting to go private or relocating. Be warned though you can move down waiting lists if someone moves closer than you to the school.

For more information or advice about the school system see Truth Education and on twitter @trutheducation