School Admissions: What to do if you don't get the place you want


Applying for a primary school place is the first really big decision that you make for your children that isn’t entirely in your hands and that can be pretty scary. If your child starts school this September, April 16th is the day you’ll find out whether your child has been offered a place at your first choice school … or not.

Lucy Roberts, Channel Mum’s Education Expert is a former primary school teacher with lots of experience in supporting Parents and their children through the admissions procedure and starting school. We asked Lucy the following questions on your behalf, giving you a step by step guide to what happens if you don’t get the place you want.

“We didn’t get our choice of Primary School, what should we do first?”
The first thing to do is not panic; nothing is set in stone yet and there is often a lot of mobility of places in the weeks and months leading up to school starting in September. And be really aware of the affect that your response could have on your child; they will pick up on any anxiety you are feeling about them starting school, or the school place they have been allocated, and nobody would want them to start school with negative feelings and worries. So try to keep it really positive or even keep them out of the loop entirely until you know how things are going to end up.

Don’t just automatically reject the place that you have been offered, because you don’t want to be left with no school place at all. Contact the admissions team at your local authority and ask them if you can be added to the wait list for your chosen school (it’s worth noting that in some areas you are automatically added to the waiting list of any schools that you placed higher on your application than the one you were allocated, but this isn’t the case everywhere, and it also never hurts to just make sure.) The admissions team should also be able to give you some idea as to whereabouts you are on the waiting list for that chosen school, and whether you would be eligible for appeal too.

If you haven’t already been, then ring the school you’ve been allocated and ask to come and visit. Even if you’ve already visited, I always think its a good idea to go again. Go with an open mind, picture your own child in those classrooms, how does the school make you feel? You may be surprised that despite it not being your initial choice, that your child - and you - could be very happy there.

I also always suggest to any parents who are allocated a school they aren’t happy with, that they ask their local admissions team if and where there are schools that have spaces. It may be that there is a school locally which is a great fit that you maybe didn’t know about or have overlooked previously, but which has a space that you could snap up without having to worry about appeals.

“I don’t like the school we’ve been offered, can I appeal?”
The simple answer is that yes, you can appeal. But it really isn’t the easiest process and the honest truth is that the decision is only likely to be overturned in very specific circumstances. Each individual school will have it’s own admissions criteria (although you will find that most schools are very similar) which essentially shows the way in which the local authority prioritises who gets a place and in what order. The admissions criteria is a public document, so you will be able to access this information either on the school’s website or from the local authority.

As a very simple example: children with a specific social or medical need almost always have priority; this may be children who are adopted or fostered, or children with an identified learning difficulty or medical need - for obvious reasons the parents or carers of these children will have very specific needs from whichever school they choose. If it’s a faith school then this is highly likely impact the way in which places are allocated in favour of those who practise that faith (and have proof that they do so.) Children with a sibling already attending the school tend to get some sort of priority for places too. And after that it will tend to come down to how many places are left, and they will be allocated on straight line distance from the school.

So if you feel that you should have been a priority for a particular reason, but haven’t been given a space, then this would definitely give you grounds for appeal. Years ago, school allocations happened very much on “catchment area” and simply living near a school was practically a guarantee that you’d get in, but as you can see this is no longer the case, as straight line distance to the school only comes into play after children with other circumstances have been allocated their places.

“How do I appeal? What happens once I’ve put my appeal in?”
In order to appeal you need to let the admissions team at your local authority know. They will be able to explain the process to you, with an idea of time frames involved and what will be required of you. You will normally be required to submit specific information and evidence, and then a hearing will be scheduled where your appeal will be discussed.

Be prepared for the fact that appeals can run well into the later end of the summer term, so it’s advisable to still have your children partake in any transition events at the school that they have been allocated so that they don’t miss out on these key, first, preparatory experiences.

“Do you have any top tips to help win an appeal?”
Whether or not you win an appeal will be entirely dependent on the specific admissions criteria of the school and whether you meet those. The best tip that I can give is to be honest in any evidence or documentation that you use; do NOT be tempted to pretend you live at your Aunt’s house who lives closer to the school than you - because you will be found out. But if you or your child does have a specific need or reason why that school is the best place for them over any other, then make it really clear why and if you have the evidence to prove it then make sure you use it.

“What happens if we lose the appeal?”
All hope is not lost. I have known families to move house or circumstances to change, and for places to become available well into September. While this is obviously not ideal when it comes to getting your child started and settled at school, if your heart is really set on a specific school then there is always the chance that a space could become available later. Aside from that, go back to some of the things I recommended in my first answer; check where there are spaces available locally, visit places with an open mind and see how you feel. And whatever you do, keep the school talk positive at home, so that your child feels happy come September, wherever it is that they end up going to school.

"Thank you very much Lucy, is there anything else you can think of that will be helpful?”
It’s worth knowing that there are laws which govern class sizes in infant age classes in the UK, and it will only be in specific circumstances that these rules can be overlooked. Class sizes cannot go above 30 pupils (unless it is for a very specific reason) so in many respects schools hands are tied as to whether they can admit you on appeal or not, and it really isn’t at all personal.

It’s also worth know that in most areas, during September, the responsibility for managing the waiting list for school places passes back to the school instead of the admissions team; so do keep in contact with the school and let them know that you would still like to be considered for a place if one pops up.

If you have a question we didn’t ask Lucy, please add it in a reply below and we’ll ask Lucy for some advice for you.

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What if weve changed our mind about our preference and get our first choice which we no longer want? What do we do?
Our child has just started at the nursery attached to our second choice school, possibly high functioning autistic and is now adamant that the second choice school is where his is going in September and he has settle so well already


Morning! Gosh, children are so fickle, aren’t they. I think it might depend on the borough but here, you would phone the school and let them know that you want a place there instead. They can tell you how far down the waiting list you are and give you a call if a place becomes available. I think there is a lot of movement on these lists as people move house, switch preferred schools etc so your child has a decent chance of getting in. Give the school a call and find out what’s what. Best of luck!