How to win an oversubscribed school appeal

Sadly, some children will miss out on their first choice of primary school. This can be very disappointing and upsetting for students and their parents. Working out what to do next can seem daunting, but you do have options. It's worth looking again at the school you’ve been allocated or other schools in the area as you might decide that they would suit your child. Do ask to be put on the waiting list for your first choice school as a lot can change between now and September. You also have the legal right to appeal the decision. If you’re considering an appeal, here’s our guide to the process and advice on ways to improve your chances of success. 

Things to do before you make a school place appeal

  • Understand why your child didn't receive a place. The letter or e-mail giving your school offer should give a reason. It will usually be because your child didn’t meet the admissions criteria or that your chosen school or schools were oversubscribed. Once a school has more applicants than places they have to use their oversubscription criteria. If your child doesn’t meet the criteria as well as others do they won’t be offered a place. Instead they will be offered a place at the nearest school that has places available. 
  • Accept your existing offer. We’d recommend doing this to avoid the possibility of your child ending up without a school place. Accepting a place doesn’t stop you from appealing the decision.
  • Ask your local authority to add your child to the waiting list for your preferred school. You can do this even if you are appealing. It is really worth doing this, as sometimes places may become available through the waiting list before an appeal is heard. If you approach schools directly they might be able to tell you how long their waiting lists are and the chances that your child might be admitted. Admission is dependent on how well children meet the oversubscription criteria, not on their place on the list, but often places do become available between offer day and the start of term. If there are other schools in the area that you would prefer to the school you’ve been allocated you can also ask to be added to their waiting lists, even if they weren’t on your initial list of school choices. 

How to appeal a primary school place 

Details of how to appeal will be included in the letter or e-mail that you receive from your local authority with your school offer. Your local authority website will have more information. The details differ between local authorities but you will usually be expected to fill in a detailed appeals form and then attend an appeals panel to present your case in person. 

What are the criteria for the school appeal process?

There are two main grounds for appeal. The first is if a school’s admissions policy contravenes the School Admissions Code or has been applied incorrectly. An example of this would be if a school prioritises siblings in its admission procedure and hasn’t done so in your case. These cases are rare but it is worth checking the admissions policy of the school to confirm that everything has been done correctly. The second and most common reason is that the disadvantage to your child from not attending that particular school outweighs that caused to the other children in the school from additional pupils being admitted. 

Appeals are only successful in limited cases, usually when your first choice of school is the only one to meet your child’s specific needs. You can still appeal based on the fact that it’s your preferred school or the best school in the local area but if that is your only reason you are unlikely to be successful. This means that you need to be clear about your grounds for appeal and for why your child needs to go to that specific school. Possible reasons might include: specific family circumstances, health or special needs issues, opportunities to achieve academic potential, extra curricular opportunities, travel practicalities and emotional issues. 

Seeking advice on the school appeal process

The admissions experts at your local authority are the best people to speak to about any questions you have about the appeals process. Some schools might also be willing to offer advice directly. 

If you can, talk to other parents who have been through the appeals process, especially those who have been successful at getting their child into your chosen school. They might have valuable information about the factors that make a difference and the best arguments to use. 

Teachers and other educational specialists might also be able to give advice about the best way to approach the appeal. Specific legal advice is also available. 

Remember to keep detailed records and collect together all relevant documents, including application forms, information about the school and any supporting evidence. 

How to write a persuasive school appeal

Make sure that the information you provide is concise and accurate. You might have lots of reasons why you think your child should attend the school but try to focus on the specific reasons why their needs can be best met at that school. Concentrate on education and well being arguments. Explain what the school can offer that others can’t and what the impact on your child of not attending that school would be. 

Include any relevant evidence, such as academic achievements, extracurricular activities, medical reports, travel difficulties or personal circumstances that might have not been fully considered. Highlight any extenuating circumstances or any changes since your initial application. Add any letters of support from teachers or specialists. 

How to present a strong case at a school appeal hearing

Have all your documentation ready and practise what you are going to say in advance. Be aware of how the appeal hearing works, the opportunities you will be given to speak and the types of questions you might be asked. Try and appear confident and respectful and keep your arguments positive. Focus on how attending this specific school would benefit your child and how it would meet their needs better than other local schools. 

Try and anticipate possible objections to your case. These might include arguments that the negative impact to existing students on admitting extra pupils might outweigh the benefit to your child. Prepare your answers emphasising any exceptional circumstances of your case and the specific benefits to your child. 

Have a plan B

Frustratingly for parents, primary school appeals are only successful in about 10% of cases and in fairly limited circumstances, although this varies a lot between areas and year groups. This means it is important to investigate other options. These might include: 

  • Looking again at the school you’ve been offered. It can be hard when you’re disappointed, but try and be open minded about this. Schools can change quickly and reputations can improve. Sometimes a school that isn’t thought of as the best in the area might turn out to be the best school for your child. Visiting the school might also be revealing. 
  • Considering other schools in your area. Are there any other schools in your area with places available that might be suitable for your child? 
  • Exploring other options. Some parents investigate whether any independent schools in the area might have any scholarships or bursary places available that their children might qualify for. Others look at alternative educational options such as home schooling or online learning. 

Further help and resources 

School Guide has lots of advice and information to help you through the appeals process and to support you if you need to find another school for your child. Find details of your local authoritySchool Guide league tables, catchment area information and lots more.