How to make a successful schools appeal? Or, how to get on waiting lists for schools? As it’s around the time of National Admissions Day (officially 1st March 2019), these questions might already be on your mind.
Do not fear – we’ve spoken to parents who have managed to sneak their child into their first choice school and others who have made the best of the chaos school admissions can often bring about by sending their child to a great school they hadn’t thought of before having missed out on their first choice on National Admissions Day.
We have enlisted the help of a number of primary and secondary headteachers who go through the school admissions gauntlet every year, as well as seeking wisdom from local authority advisors, and savvy parents who have made successful school appeals to ensure you know what to do next. Regardless of whether you’ve got your child into your first choice school, if you’re wondering whether it’s worth rolling the dice again if you’ve made it into your second choice school, or what to do if none of your choices come through on the day, we’ve considered the possibilities.
If you are unsatisfied with your offer on National Admissions Day you may wish to lodge a successful schools appeal. What to say in such a situation is tricky, so we hope to have you covered.
Bitesize advice for National Admissions Day (especially if you don’t get your first-choice school):
- Hide your disappointment and worry from your child: getting stressed will only worry them or make them feel they did something wrong;
- Don’t reject a place if you’ve been offered one somewhere else: as much as you might feel like doing it, especially on the day itself… Think: what if you end up at a third, fourth, fifth or no choice at all school?
- Ask to go on the waiting list of your chosen school: just because it’s your family’s dream school, it might not be for another family – or there could be children who move elsewhere in the country or the world between now and September;
- Notify your council or local authority of your wish to appeal: each council or local authority will have set deadlines and procedures which they will share on the relevant schools’ admissions page of their website. Your child’s primary school may have a parent liaison team who are able to help you in contacting the council to appeal;
- Figure out what your best grounds are for appealing: you want to ensure you have the most compelling reason for appealing it could be an admissions procedure mistake (a clerical error by the schools admissions office transposing your postcode incorrectly or having not taken into account a letter of support written by your imam, vicar, rabbi or parish priest), or your child might have a social or medical need that has been overlooked or that you forgot to include in your initial application. Throughout you need to find reasons why it is the right school, do NOT focus on why other schools are ‘bad’;
- Make sure you lodge your appeal in time: your appeal must be heard within 40 days of it being made, or by the end of the summer term, whatever is soonest. Appeals are heard by an independent panel – they consider your case versus that of the school. Namely, why they cannot accept any more children against your case putting forward why your child needs a place at their school in particular;
- Be willing to reconsider your opinion of other schools: start the search again, discounting your first-choice school as an option – speak to parents at your school whose children have attended other local schools and enquire with those schools’ offices about organising a tour of these schools. How many school appeals are successful? The national statistic is that about a third of parents make successful school appeals on behalf of their child, but that figure can vary hugely depending on the area and even the school in question.
What is National Admissions Day?
You might not know it by its official title, you might know it as offer day.
Once a year – this year the date is Friday 1st March 2019 – over 500,000 children in the last year of primary school (known as Year 6) find out whether or not they made it into their first choice secondary school.
In England, parents and guardians will have spent much time in Year 5 and the beginning of Year 6 visiting open days or open evenings, going on tours, reading prospectuses and filling in and submitting forms by the end of October to apply for places at their child’s preferred prospective secondary schools.
After an agonising wait of more than four months, on National Admissions Day, families will receive an email – with most local authorities asking them to visit their schools’ admissions portal – notifying them of which school their child is due to attend the following academic year.
Nationally, in 2017, over 80% of children were offered a place at their preferred secondary school, which sounds like a favourable proportion; however, it means that approximately 100,000 children do not get a place at the secondary school they or their parents have chosen.
Locally the proportion of families achieving entry to their chosen school can differ greatly. So, in less populated areas the percentage could be closer to 100%, whilst in more competitive regions – especially London boroughs – you can be just as likely to get your child into your chosen school as not. Research by the Evening Standard in March 2018 showed that almost half of children did not gain a place at their preferred schools in Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea, and Lambeth councils. A figure that is also true of children living in the City of London too. Outer-London boroughs, like Redbridge, Croydon, Hounslow and Richmond-upon-Thames dispensed similar amounts of disappointment to families in 2018.
Increasing competition year-on-year on National Admissions Day
Statistics show a trend of more families missing out on their places over recent years – there was an increase in families not receiving their first-choice school of approximately 10% between 2015 and 2018. A trend that is likely to continue as a rise in birth rates since the turn of the millennium has put an increasing strain on primary and now, ever-increasingly, on secondary schools too. That means an increase in people figuring out how to get on school waiting lists.
It is important to note that the gap between places applied for and places available is growing particularly in areas where school place competition is traditionally higher than other parts of the country: Hounslow, Buckinghamshire and Trafford Metropolitan to name a few.
Advice from leading Headteachers
We heard from two inspiring Headteachers, who don’t just hold being transformational school leaders in common, they both happen to have a child of their own going through the schools admission gauntlet in 2019 too.
Drew Povey, Leadership Consultant and former Headteacher of Harrop Fold (Channel 4, Educating Manchester) told us: “As a family, we are going through the admissions process again this year. It’s hard to know which school is best one, or which one we’ll get… but what I do know is this – in all schools, teachers are working every hour God sends to give the very best to the children and young people, to change their lives for the better. Whatever the school, I know that’ll be true.”
Chris Dyson, Headteacher at Parkland Primary School, Leeds aka the Fun Palace (TES Schools Award Winner 2017), offered Matr the following advice: “This year has extra meaning for me; as my own daughter is in the mix alongside thousands of others. The day for children can be stressful as too for the parents as some will be lucky and overjoyed with their school place; others will be heartbroken and feel rejected. Sadly this process isn’t like an exam or a sporting trial where the harder you work the more success you will get. This process is done after parents complete the preference form. What will be will be. It is best not to stress or to feel anxious with the decision. Appeals have to really tick the boxes sadly. So have a really positive action to the school given – don’t say in front of the children ‘over my dead body will they attend there…’ Be positive; others will be in the same boat. Good luck and fingers crossed.”
Birds of a feather flock together. Inspiring school leaders, from left to right: Drew Povey (@drewpovey) and Chris Dyson (@chrisdysonHT)
Advice from a mum who has been through the school admissions process in recent years
Emma Bradley (@emmaand3), mother of three, former secondary school teacher, wife of a school leader and editor of Tots 100 (the UK’s most prominent parent blogging collective) offered the following words of wisdom: “One thing parents often overlook is transport to the school they pick. If the school is not in walking distance it can get expensive!”
Donna, who runs @littlelilypadco, advised: “Think about your options. What will you do if you don’t get your first choice? Where does your child want to go? Will they do better academically if they make the choice of school, rather than you?”
Amy Peters (@loveworkplaydre), business owner and mother to a five-year-old and one-year-old, says of primary school applications: “Stay calm, take a balanced decision and remember, it will all be ok.”
She has written more about primary school admissions in her blog.
What do you do if you don’t get your child’s first-choice school?
Although nationally the majority of children do make it into their first-choice school, often the national statistic of gaining entry to one of three preferred schools doesn’t cut the mustard for parents who value the difference between the first- and second-choice school, without beginning to consider the disparity between a first- and third-choice school, especially in areas where the best local school stands head-and-shoulders above the schools it shares its catchment area with.
Remember that it is as stressful a time for your child as it is for you – don’t add to their burden by being too vocal or obvious in your disappointment. Ultimately, it is as much out of their hands as it is yours. They are still young and might struggle to comprehend the complexity of the schools’ admissions process and end up unduly blaming themselves or feeling overly disappointed at not making it into a school of their or your choice.
You might feel an overwhelming urge to reject a place at a second- or third-choice school. Stop – in the long-run you might end up cutting off your nose to spite your face, as the saying goes. In time, once you’ve gotten over the disappointment of not getting school number one, other schools might grow on you and it could very well be the school you’ve already been given a place for…
In the meantime, it is worthwhile to ask to go on the waiting list for your original first-choice school. Just because it was your first choice – for reasons you might not comprehend, it might not be the Joneses down the road’s first choice. Get on that waiting list ASAP. In school life as in other areas of life, the old adage “the early bird catches the first worm” rings true. Contact the schools in questions – or your local authority – to figure out how to get on the school waiting list.
Make sure you let your council or local authority about your intention to appeal. Councils have different rules and stipulations, so it is worthwhile speaking with someone there to find out what the appropriate routes of appeal are – and, if you’re really lucky, you might have a parent liaison officer (or similar) at your child’s primary school who is well-versed in the appeal’s process already and able to offer support.
When lodging your appeal, it is important to establish the specific grounds upon which you are appealing – are there social or familial reasons why your child can’t attend a certain school (or a school in a certain area)? Is there a medical reason you omitted from your previous application you would like to include to support your appeal? Was there a clerical error made during the application process by a member of the schools’ admissions team at the council or local authority?
It is important that you lodge your appeal in good time – the sooner, the better. Don’t rush though – and take advice from other parents that you know of who have made successful school appeals in previous years, the staff at your child’s primary school, and – if you have the inclination and funds – there are solicitors who specialise in education and are well-experienced in lodging school admission appeals for parents.
It is also worthwhile to remain open-minded throughout all of this – you never know, on reflection you might realise that school number one wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be and that there’s a school, perhaps a newer, undersubscribed school, down the road that’s had an Oustanding Ofsted report between October when you made your application and now when to places have been allocated.
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Valid reasons for appeal for school appeals
When applying for an appeal for secondary school admission, the overwhelming majority of local authorities will conduct a two-stage process appeal.
Appeals panels are most often made up of three people. There will be at least one person who is considered a ‘lay person’ (that they have not worked in providing or managing education, apart from as a volunteer or school governor) and another person who has experience in education (someone who has a child at or who has worked in a school within that council’s jurisdiction). The third person is the Clerk – they do not weigh in on the process at all.
The Clerk is present to explain the process and answer any questions you have at the hearing (they will be a specialist and an independent source of advice in the legalities of school admissions and appeals). They ensure relevant facts are presented and recorded and provide assistance and information to all parties – before and during the hearing. The Clerk will also record the proceeding, decisions and reasons provided for decisions and will also let parents know when to expect a final decision.
There are two stages in finding and applying valid reasons for appeal for school appeals.
The first stage seeks to establish the facts in your child’s case. Stage 2 is used to balance the arguments – your reasons behind wanting a place at the school versus the school’s ability to provide a sufficient education to the children in its care following further admissions.
What to say at a school appeal hearing
Whatever you say at the hearing will be considered in accordance with the mandatory requirements of the Schools Admission Code and Part 3 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998.
Ultimately, you will be saying at the school appeal hearing whether you fell the admissions arrangements were correctly and impartially applied in your child’s case.
On the school’s side, their argument will tend towards proving that admitting your child will cause ‘prejudice to the provision of efficient education or the efficient use of resources’.
Ultimately, you need to prove that your child’s attendance at the school will not have a negative effect on the overall provision of education at the school. To do so, it is best to arm yourself with as much data as possible. The admissions authority is obliged to provide the following information, which will be a good starting point for you in arguing your child’s case:
- The admission number for each relevant age group
- The actual number of pupils in each age group
- The number of pupils on the SEN register
- The average capacity of classrooms
- The width and safety of corridors and stairwells
- The capacity of common areas
- Whether the school is fully staffed with teachers
- Ask for a copy of the school’s NET Capacity Assessment
Parental Choice also advises parents in keeping the following in mind when attempting a successful schools appeal:
- The year group is not yet full and the school building has the capacity for more pupils.
- Classrooms generally accommodate more than 30. Are the forms in the year group less than 30? If so, perhaps larger groups could be taught without difficulty.
- Are some year groups larger than others? If so, the school has been able to manage larger groups in the past, in which case it should be able to manage larger groups now.
- Are there fewer pupils with special educational needs in the relevant year group? You might be able to argue that there is spare teaching capacity.
When making an appeal it is important to be well prepared. Have all your documentation prepared so that when you’re called upon for your hearing, you are ready. It is worthwhile to back up your case with letters from independent agencies and reliable sources, like your GP and other doctors or health visitors your child may have contact with.
Do your best to fact check the information and data provided – if you make an error or refer to an incorrect statistic it can begin to discredit your appeal more broadly.
It is important all the while to focus on why the school in question is the right school for your child – try not to explain why other schools will be bad, it doesn’t wash well with appeal panels.
After your appeal hearing, you will be informed of a final decision within 5 working days. So, within a week you will find out whether you have made a successful school appeal or not.
Best of luck on your schools’ admissions journey!
If you do choose to lodge an appeal, do so with your eyes open. You might wonder, ‘how many school appeals are successful?’ Nationally, about 33% of parents make successful school appeals on behalf of their child. The rate of successful appeals can be even lower if you’re in a particularly populous part of the country or applying for an especially competitive school to gain entry to.
We wish you the best of luck with admissions, whether you got your first choice school, are happy with your second- or third-choice after reflecting, or are considering making an appeal.
If you do make an appeal and feel it has been conducted in a prejudiced manner, you can lodge a complaint with the Government’s Office of the Schools Adjudicator. But let’s hope it doesn’t come to that!
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