Primary school places – not got what you wanted?

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    Hundreds of thousands of parents are finding out which primary school their children will go to later this year. If the school on offer is unsuitable for some reason, there are a number of things you can do.

    Think carefully

    First, read the letter from your local authority very closely.

    It will provide instructions about how to proceed if you do not wish to accept the school on offer.

    But before acting in haste, and rejecting a school out of hand, remember that you do not have a right to choose a particular school for your child.

    Instead, you have a right only to express a series of preferences.

    If your first choice cannot be met, usually because there are other pupils living closer to the school than you or meeting the admissions criteria more closely than your family, the local authority allocates your child a place at an alternative school – in the order of your preferences.

    But in a small number of cases this may be at a school that was not among your preferences.

    Nevertheless, it is well worth going to see the school you have been offered and discussing any concerns you may have with the head teacher.

    Waiting lists

    All schools have to keep waiting list, and there is always a bit of movement after the first offer is sent out.

    Some families may decide to go private, for example, which may free up a place at your chosen school.

    So it is well worth checking whether you are on the waiting list of your preferred school.

    Depending on whether the school controls its own admissions, this may be down to the school in question or the local authority.

    A quick call to the schools admissions team will answer that.

    The admission authority for the school must keep a waiting list for at least one term, and places are usually offered according to the school’s admissions criteria.

    It is a good idea to find out what your position is on the waiting list and how far they tend to move before the start of term.

    Should I appeal?

    It is pretty difficult to win an appeal against a decision not to offer a child a place at a certain school.

    Schools have a legal limit of 30 children per infant class, and this limits the powers of the appeal panel hearing your appeal.

    There are cases in which the 30-pupil limit can be breached such as when twins need to be placed in a school or in the case of army families.

    But where the school is very popular and over-subscribed, there will be lots of other parents jostling for places.

    There are four grounds on which appeals can be successful:

    • The school’s admission arrangements do not comply with the law and if they did your child would have been offered a place
    • A mistake has been made with your child’s application and if it had been handled properly your child would have been offered a place
    • Admitting further children would not breach the infant class limit of 30 pupils per teacher
    • The refusal of a place was unreasonable, taking the admissions arrangements into account

    Deciding to appeal

    Be warned, persuading the local authority it has made a mistake is not going to be easy.

    It is best to get as much information and evidence as possible before deciding to do this.

    You must inform the local authority of your decision to appeal in writing.

    You will then be given a date for your appeal hearing, at least 10 days in advance.

    Know your arguments and practise what you are going to say.

    It is possible to seek legal advice and may be advisable in some circumstances.

    The Advisory Centre for Education offers some free advice on appeals.

    You will need to explain why this school would be the best place for your child – concentrate on this, not on why an alternative school would be bad.

    What is it about this particular school that makes it such a good fit for your child?

    What happens at an appeal hearing?

    An appeal panel of between three to five members of the public will assess your case.

    At the hearing, the panel will be told why your application was turned down.

    They will check that the school’s admission arrangements comply with the Schools Admissions Code.

    Then, you will be invited to say why you are appealing against the decision.

    You will need to explain why you think this school is best for your child and any special circumstances that support your application. Bring written evidence of this.

    Once the appeal has been heard, the panel has to decide whose case is stronger – yours or the school’s.

    You will get the result by post within seven days. The decision is legally binding.

    If your appeal is successful, your child will be given a place at the school.

    If your appeal is unsuccessful, you can still put your child’s name on the school’s waiting list.

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