School Admission Appeals
Getting the right school for your child. What parents need to know
School admission arrangements can be a stressful for parents. After you have made your application in the autumn term, the academic year before your child is to start at a new school, you must wait a few months for the decision.
You will be sent a letter with the decision about your child’s school in:
- March for secondary school places, or
- April for primary school places
of the academic year before your child starts at the school.
If your child is refused a school of your choice, you can appeal against the decision. You must appeal against each rejection separately. The admission authority for the school must allow you at least 20 school days to appeal from when they send the decision letter.
Specialist advice, guidance and experience can assist you to lodge a successful school admission appeal. Firstly, by presenting a solid written case and secondly through advocacy, by presenting your case coherently at an appeal hearing in front of an independent panel.
Panels like to see well researched and rational parents who are rejecting the school offered for valid and evidenced reasons, we can assist you with preparing your written case and with your presentation at the panel hearing.
Points to consider:
- Distance - if you fall just outside the catchment area it is worth challenging how the distance is measured?
- Siblings - are you a blended family, have all siblings been considered?
- Medical - are there any medical reasons relating to yourself or your child that necessitate your child going to your preferred school?
- School strengths - try to match your preferred school’s strengths and specialisms to your child’s talents or passions. E.g. – a child who runs the computer club in his current school who wants an ICT specialist school to further their career or a gymnast who wants a sports specialist school.
- Do your research - every school will have an Ofsted report, a website and a prospectus. Look carefully at all of those and try to find something in the school that matches.
- Family trauma - you may not wish to put this in, but emotional state is important and will have a potential bearing on the decision of an appeal panel.
- Bullying - this is always a high priority for panels but must be evidenced. If it has taken place there must be a record of what has happened and evidence of meetings with the school etc.
- Childcare issues - the start and finish of the school day can be very problematic to many, especially working parents. Your work arrangements and flexibility should be stressed in an appeal hearing.
- Single sex - if your preference is for a single sex school and you have been offered a mixed school so we should state your reasons for the preference.
- If you’re abroad, have multiple homes or move to a new house - check the rules on which address will be used to determine distance from the school. Where you are living at the time you are making the school admission application is generally the address that counts. If you move after submitting your application, inform the admission authority as soon as possible.
The school’s prejudice case
The school will argue that their classrooms are too small, or their playgrounds are cramped. They might argue health and safety concerns especially in specialist subjects such as science due to overcrowding in laboratories.
There should be information to support the fact that prejudice will be caused to the provision of efficient education or use of resources. Depending on what the school say in their statement of case there is a lot more detail we can go into when it comes to the hearing.
The appeal hearing
School admission appeals must be heard for primary applications, within 40 days of the appeal being lodged or before the end of the summer term whichever is sooner. You must attend and show as much commitment to the education and welfare of the child as possible.
The order of proceedings will generally by outlined at the outset by the clerk or the Panel Chair and is generally as follows:
- Introduction and welcome by the chair
- Case put for the school by the presenting officer
- Questions to the admissions authority by the panel or parent
- Case put by the parent/representative
- Questions to parent(s) by admission authority or panel
- Summing up
As outlined in section 3 of the School Admission Appeals Code 2012, Independent Appeal Panels must follow a two-stage decision making process.
The panel must consider:
- Whether the admission arrangement (including the area’s co-ordinated admission arrangements) complied with the mandatory requirements of the School Admissions Code and Part 3 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998; and
- Whether the admission arrangements were correctly and impartially applied in the case in question.
After this, the panel must then decide whether the admission of additional children would prejudice the provision of efficient education or the efficient use of resources. This part of the test is objective. The duty is to consider whether prejudice would arise should any child be admitted. The Panel should not generally consider at this stage the particular characteristics and circumstances of the child in question.
If prejudice to the school is proved and it is for the respondent to prove on the balance of probabilities the second stage of the test requires a decision to be made on whether the degree of prejudice to the school outweighs the arguments for admitting the child.
By virtue of the Code, the panel must uphold the appeal at the first stage where it finds that:
- The admission arrangements did not comply with admissions law or had not been correctly or impartially applied, and the child would have been offered a place if the arrangements had complied or had been correctly and impartially applied; or
- The admission of additional children would not prejudice the provision of efficient education or efficient use of resources.
However, in multiple appeals where several children would have been offered a place, and to admit that number would seriously prejudice the provision of efficient education or efficient use of resources, the panel must proceed to the second stage.
The panel must proceed to the second stage where it finds that the admission arrangements:
- Did comply with admissions law and that they were correctly and impartially applied to the child, or
- Did not comply with admissions law or were not correctly and impartially applied but that, if they had complied and had been correctly and impartially applied, the child would not have been offered a place
and it finds that the admission of additional children would prejudice the provision of efficient education or efficient use of resources.
The panel must balance the prejudice to the school against the appellant’s case for the child to be admitted to the school. It must consider the appellant’s reasons for expressing a preference for the School, including what the school can offer the child that the allocated or other schools cannot. If the panel considers that the appellant’s case outweighs the prejudice to the school, it must uphold the appeal.
Whilst the panel must consider the school’s published admission number (PAN), the admission authority must be able to demonstrate prejudice over and above the fact that the PAN has already been reached. The panel must not reassess the capacity of the school but must consider the impact on the school of admitting additional children.
After the hearing
You will get the result in writing, ideally within five working days. The Panel’s decision is binding on the local authority or governing body. The decision letter should indicate if prejudice was established, refer to the 2-stage process of prejudice and balancing and explain fully why the parental representations did not outweigh the school’s prejudice case.
If you are unhappy with the result the following options are available:
- Complaining to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman. The LGSCO can investigate complaints regarding maladministration on the part of the Appeal Panel or the admission authority. If you feel that the correct procedure was not followed, then an appeal may be worthwhile. The LGSCO cannot overrule a decision but can order a fresh appeal to be heard by a different appeal panel. The LGSCO can order small amounts of compensation if they find maladministration.
- Complaining to the ESFA which can investigate complaints about academies and free schools. If ESFA decides something went wrong with the appeals panel, it may ask the school to hold a new appeal hearing with a different panel or recommend the school reviews its appeals process
- Judicial review. Here we can get a decision overturned if it is shown to be wrong in law. Applications must be made promptly.
We will ensure that you are advised about the different ways of funding your case, both fixed fees and hourly rates; we can also put you in touch with a specialist crowd-funding platform Crowd Justice, and we can work with your insurance company, if appropriate.
Why use Doyle Clayton?
As well as providing high quality, timely and practical legal advice, we believe that the following sets us apart from other law firms:
- High quality service that is recognised in The Legal 500. Our team of specialist education solicitors is ranked in the top tier by The Legal 500.
- We are education law specialists. Our education team supports many different educational institutions with their legal and compliance issues, so we understand the challenges. Our team includes lawyers who are governors, plus those who have worked in-house at colleges and as Home Office compliance officers.
The team is lead by Simon Henthorn. He is well known for his work in the education sector, and recommended by Chambers Guide to the UK Legal Profession for being “very easy to deal with” and “very knowledgeable”. Simon is a governor of St Stephen’s School in Twickenham.
Click here to meet our team of specialist Education lawyers.
Don’t just take our word for it! Here are some examples of recent feedback from The Legal 500 and from our clients:
- “The (Education) team is excellent. Everyone we have worked with are approachable, friendly and engaging".
- “I found the (Education) team very responsive, thorough and very good value for money. I would happily use them again and also would recommend them to others.”
- "They are a strong team. Enthusiastic, resourceful, personable, and experienced."
- “Simon Henthorn is an outstanding lawyer, articulate, knowledgeable, courteous and a pleasure to work with.”
- “Doyle Clayton, and in particular Simon Henthorn, has been an especially good, helpful and straightforward source of advice and support. He has an excellent understanding of both legal issues and the context within which we operate. He is intelligent, proactive and creative in suggesting possible solutions to problems. A really safe pair of hands and a trusted source of both tactical and strategic advice and guidance.”
- "Simon Henthorn, the Head of the Education team, is unparalleled. He knows the education sector like the back of his hand, he has a good strategic mind for a case and he is excellent with clients. He radiates decency and inspires confidence. I worked with him on a very complex case involving a client with significant health needs, and he went above and beyond for the client.
- "Simon Henthorn has forensic attention to detail and exceptional work ethic which gets the best results for his clients. Innovative and courteous, he is a very capable lawyer.’‘Simon Henthorn is a first-rate practitioner. He is a pleasure to work with and is experienced and dedicated."
- “We have been very impressed with the support provided by Liz (Timmins). She is very professional, diligent and thorough and we appreciated the regular updates regarding the status of matters. She is commercially astute and very easy to deal with. We have nothing but praise and recommendation for Liz and would have no hesitation in recommending Doyle Clayton and Liz to our clients.”