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School Admissions

November 19, 2009

If your child has not been offered a place at the school you wanted him/her to go you can make a complaint.

Who do you complain to?

Contact the admissions authority of the school you are complaining about. The admission authority will be either the governing body of the school for foundation, voluntary aided and independent schools; or the local education authority (LEA) for other state schools (community and voluntary controlled).

You also have the right to appeal to an independent appeal panel (your case should be forwarded by the admissions authority).

The letter telling you that your child has not been offered a place at your preferred school will also tell you about your right to appeal, and give information about what you should do next. Make sure you make your appeal within any deadline given.

The appeals process has two parts. The admissions authority puts its case first. If it is accepted that they have a good reason for turning you down, the appeals process moves into the second part, where you have a chance to say why that school would be best for your child and what special factors justify your child getting in.

What grounds do you have to complain?

If there are more children wanting places at a school than there are places available, the admission authority has to follow a set of rules to decide who to offer places to. These rules (which are sometimes called “over-subscription criteria”) must by law be fair and objective, and must be published each year in the school’s prospectus and in the LEA’s booklet.

Some commonly used rules for over-subscription criteria include:

  • whether your child has a brother or sister already at that school

  • whether you live in the area the school serves (“the catchment area”)

  • whether your child goes to a nursery or other school linked to the school of your choice (a “feeder school”)

  • whether your child or your family goes to church (for a voluntary-aided church school)

  • whether there are particular medical or social reasons why your child should go to the school

  • how far away from the school you live

You can make a complaint if:

  • you think your child should have been admitted to the school, according to its published admissions criteria

  • you think the admissions authority is applying unacceptable criteria

  • your child was ill on the day of the entry exam and you think they would otherwise have passed

  • all your child’s friends are going to the school in question and you think your child would be significantly unhappy if they could not go there too

You can appeal regardless of the age of your child, or the number of schools you have applied to. Appeals committees do not have to restrict themselves to applying the school’s own admissions criteria when considering an appeal.

Different rules apply if your admission application has been refused because the school has reached its legal limit of 30 in a class. The limit applies to any child who will still be in an infant class – a class for five-seven year olds.

In this type of appeal the panel are only allowed to look at two things:

i) Whether the admission authority stuck to its own rules, which were published in its admission arrangements. If the admission authority broke its own rules, either deliberately or by mistake, then your appeal can succeed, but only if your child would have got in if the rules had been applied properly.

ii) Whether the admission authority acted unreasonably – ie completely illogically, or not based on the facts of the case (for instance, the published admission arrangements, the number of applicants, the number of classrooms at the school, and other factors to do with the school or the admission authority).

They do not include facts particular to your child or any special reason you might have for wanting your child to go to that school (the convenience of the journey between your home and the school, for example).

Your LEA must, by law, offer your child a place at a school within reasonable travelling distance.

If you want to know more about appeals, contact the admission authority for the school.

Will you get a fair hearing?

Appeal committees are set up by the admissions authorities, but are independent of them and include a majority of lay members. All appeal committees are overseen by the independent council on tribunals, which ensures that the procedures are as open, fair and impartial as possible.

What will happen if you’re successful?

If the appeal panel decides that your case is the stronger, it will uphold your appeal and the admission authority is then under a duty to admit your child to the school.

Anything else you can do?

If your appeal does not succeed, you can ask the school to put your child on their waiting list (if the school has one), as places sometimes become free after the start of the school year.

If you are unhappy about the way the appeal hearing was carried out, you could complain to the local government ombudsman, who might recommend a new appeal.