What to do if your child is refused their preferred secondary school place

Friday March 1st marks the official secondary school placement allocation deadline.

Friday March 1st marks the official secondary school placement allocation deadline. The day when thousands of families across the country will learn which school their children will start when making the transition from primary to secondary in September 2024.

However, year on year many parents and carers receive the unwanted news that they have been refused their first choice, leaving them anxious about what the future holds.

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Here, leading education law expert Sarah Woosey, from Simpson Millar, explains what can be done if you are unhappy about the school your child has been allocated including submitting an appeal to the local authorities, and pursuing legal action if the appeal is unsuccessful.


“If you’ve expressed a preference for a particular school and your child didn’t get a place, you have a right of appeal”, Sarah explains.

“You will be sent an appeal form with the letter telling you whether or not your child got a place at a particular school. Send this back within the timescale given (usually at least twenty school days), giving reasons why your child should have been awarded a place.

“Don’t worry if you don’t have all the information that you’d like to submit to support your appeal, as this can be lodged at a later date. If the letter doesn’t enclose the form, contact the admission authority immediately to get details of their appeal process.”

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According to Sarah, in the first instance an examination of the decision to refuse admission will take place. This stage isn’t based on your personal circumstances, but the arrangements put in place by the admission authority when considering who to offer places to.

Among the issues that will be considered is whether the admission arrangements were applied correctly and impartially. Next, the investigation will decide whether admitting additional children would affect the school’s ability to provide efficient education and use of resources. If it decides that the admission arrangements weren’t applied correctly or impartially, and that admitting another child wouldn’t adversely affect the school, the Panel must uphold the appeal.

“As part of the process, it’s worth looking at what your chosen school’s over-subscription policy is. It should be on their website.

“Some may prioritise children with siblings at the same school, or relating to catchment areas, but in some cases it may related to social and medical needs. Understanding the criteria might help you with the appeal application.”

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Sarah goes on to caution that parents should be careful not to make the appeal about the school itself.

She said: “Don’t simply say that a pupil should attend a particular school because it has a better league table result or Ofsted reports. Other parents will be saying the same thing.

“Equally, don’t say that the school your child has been allocated to is poorly performing and your child is bright, so would suffer academically at that school. panels may decide that academically able pupils with supportive families can thrive at any school.”

Instead, parents and carers should centre the case around the child. For example, if a child had been the victim of a bully at a previous school and the perpetrator is now attending the allocated school, or other social reasons that are relevant such as having other friends and family that can help a particularly shy child.

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She said: “Gain supporting evidence to back up the facts you’re presenting, such as information from the child’s primary school or social groups they attend.

“By putting your child’s needs at the heart of your argument, the panel may decide that the harm to your child in refusing them a place outweighs the problems a school might face in admitting an extra pupil.”

Once the appeal has been submitted, parents may need to attend a hearing. Sarah said: “The admission authority should inform you in good time, within at least ten school days of the date and venue of the hearing.

“The hearing should take place within 40 days of the deadline for lodging the appeal. The admission authority will also give you a date by which the panel would like to receive any additional information to support your case.

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“The admission authority should then give their decision in writing as soon as possible after the hearing but not later than five school days, unless they’ve provided a good reason.

“The letter should give detailed reasons as to why the panel reached their final decision. If the letter doesn’t refer to your individual circumstances and summarise the arguments raised at the hearing, it may not be lawful and could be subject to challenge.

“At that stage, it would be advisable to speak to a specialist education lawyer. They can provide guidance and help you build your case which must be brought within at least three months of the hearing date and Courts prefer this to be much sooner than the deadline.”

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