Skip to main content

Secondary school appeals advice from The Good Schools Guide - Grey Coat School, Westminster

If you are not offered your first choice school, you have a legal right to appeal the decision. This will come as a huge relief to those still suffering from the shock of receiving an offer for the school nobody wants instead of the high-flying one that you were banking on. But it’s vital to have a back-up plan alongside the appeals process. Read on for advice on secondary and primary school appeals:

Secondary school appeals 

You have more chance of success when it comes to appealing secondary school decisions, but it’s still not great – around a 20 per cent chance of success in England. It varies enormously between schools and between years. You can ask the local authority for annual figures relating to the school you’re interested in. 

Grounds for a secondary school appeal 

Successful school appeals can be approved in two circumstances. First, when a school's admissions policy contravenes the School Admissions Code or has been applied incorrectly (rare as hens’ teeth). Or second, when the disadvantage to your child from not getting a place will be greater than that caused to all the other children in the year they would join, by, for example, overcrowding.  

Check the school website for admissions procedure - to win a case under point one you would need to show, for example, that the school gives priority to siblings, but your child was not awarded a place despite having an elder sibling at the school. You are more likely to be appealing on the grounds of potential harm to your child. You need to consider: 

  • Are there reasons for the school you want based on difficult family circumstances? 
  • Can the school you’ve been offered cater for any special need or health issue your child has? Health matters need to be significant, and not common ailments. ‘Plenty of people have asthma and get on perfectly well day to day,’ an appeal panel member told us. 
  • In appeals for selective schools, what is the academic attainment at the school you’ve been offered? If your child is of high academic ability, how do such pupils do in public exams and do reasonable numbers stay on for the sixth form and go on to university? If the school's record is markedly poor, you could argue that it will not enable your child to reach their full potential. 
  • Does your child have a particular aptitude in the school’s specialism? Does it offer unusual extra curricular opportunities that match your child's talents or interests? 
  • Is the journey to the school you’ve been offered very long or complicated? (But bear in mind that many 11 year olds have a one-hour bus journey to school. Check the uniforms of children standing at your nearest bus stop – if others already do this, you will have no grounds). But a journey requiring three changes, and the potential for your child to be stranded or late if he misses a connection, could be considered unreasonable. 
  • Does the school you want offer a language which the unpopular one doesn’t, and do you have very strong reasons for your child studying it? (Saying, ‘Popular school offers Mandarin; my child’s maternal family are Chinese and she would like to be able to communicate with them when we visit,’ would be good grounds. Saying, ‘He’s always been interested in China and asked me to teach him some Chinese letters when he was four,’ would not.) 
  • Emotional reasons can be considered with strong evidence. Don’t rely on ‘sensitive’. ‘All children are sensitive,’ one appeal panel member told us. But perhaps your daughter has been bullied by a trio of girls who are going on to the school you’ve been offered, and she really needs a fresh start. 

How do I win a secondary school appeal? 

Concentrate on education and wellbeing arguments, not the number of Brownie badges your daughter has, or the fact that your son always helps old ladies across the road. Bear in mind the need to establish that only the school you want can meet your child's needs. And in all instances, remember that you have to show an exceptional case – at some schools, only one or two appeals may be successful. And be completely truthful - you will be questioned at the hearing. 

What is the first step of a secondary school appeal? 

You should accept the place at the school you have been offered. The local authority is not obliged to offer you another school place, and you would run the risk of having no place at all in September if you turned it down. 

Get onto the waiting list for any additional schools you prefer by applying to them, even if they are full. Bear in mind there can be a big shake out between National Offer Day and the start of the academic year in September, so that places can become available even into the start of term, as some people decide to go private or move, or get offered a place at another school they prefer. 

Do not rule out the school you have been offered. A bad local reputation can linger after a school has improved under a new head. Visit and see for yourself, and also use it as a research trip to find details you need for your appeal. Try not to be critical of the school in front of your child - worst case scenario is that they still end up going there and you wouldn't want them thinking that their new school is terrible.

If your child is more able or talented, investigate if any local private schools still have spaces and a scholarship/bursary to offer. This is a long shot as funds will likely have already been allocated but its always worth asking the question. 

How do you win an oversubscribed school appeal? 

If you haven’t received an offer for your first-choice school, the chances are it is due to the school being over-subscribed. A school’s over-subscription criteria kick in as soon as the school receives more applications than it has places. In such cases, where a school is oversubscribed, families can appeal for places in the ways described above. 

Primary school appeals 

The harsh reality is that you are unlikely to win an appeal for a reception place, especially if you live in a crowded city. On average, around 10 per cent of primary school appeals heard by the appeals panel are successful. 

Why do so many primary school appeals fail?  

Firstly, because local authorities have a duty only to provide a place at a school, not at a school of your choosing. Secondly, infant class size legislation restricts classes to 30 children at reception/KS1. That means it's illegal for reception classes at your preferred school to have more than 30 children. The only exceptions to this are cases where a child is admitted outside the normal admissions round in the following circumstances: a child with an EHCP (Education, Health and Care Plan - relating to special needs and disability); children moving into the area when there is no other available school within reasonable distance; and looked after children. It can also be breached when a mistake has been made and a child ought to have gained a place, eg because they have a sibling already at the school; or when a child with special educational needs spends part of his or her time in a special school or specials needs unit. 

So the first rule of a primary school appeal is to avoid it all costs. That means being clued up about the schools in your area and applying the right tactics when you fill in the application form - click to read our advice on choosing and applying to primary schools

Grounds for a primary school appeal 

In the normal admissions round, you can only win an infant class appeal on legal grounds. That means you must prove that the admissions criteria are in themselves illegal, because they contravene the School Admissions Code.  

Or, you might be able to show that they have been applied incorrectly (eg the distance from your house has not been measured accurately – again you need to look carefully at their policy, as some will take an ‘as the crow flies’ measurement, and others will measure the shortest walking distance). However the cut off distance will vary from year to year according, eg, to the number of applications, so even if your neighbour’s child got in last year, it doesn’t mean yours will be a shoe-in.

The only other grounds for appeal occur when the decision to refuse admission ‘was not one which a reasonable admission authority would have made’. Again this confuses parents because the ‘not…reasonable’ here means in a legal sense, ie that their admissions decision was ‘perverse’, ‘outrageous’, or defies logic or accepted moral standards.

Every year The Good Schools Guide hears from families who feel they have a case because the decision seems unreasonable – such as one parent who had three children placed in three different schools. How could she be at three school gates at the same time? Even this did not allow her to win an appeal. Other parents tell us the school they wound up with isn’t on their commute, doesn’t fit with their childcare arrangements or it has a terrible Ofsted review. None of these are grounds for appeal.

What is the first step of a primary school appeal? 

You must accept the place at the school you have been offered, no matter how tempting it is to return the form with ‘Over my dead body’ scrawled on it. If you reject it, the local authority is not obliged to offer you another school, and you would run the risk of having no place at all in September.

Get onto the waiting list for any school you prefer (this can include ones you didn’t put on your original preference form) and do not rule out the school you have been offered. A bad local reputation can linger after a school has improved under a new head. If you can, visit to see for yourself, and you could even ask other parents at the school gate about their experience of the school.

If you haven't been given the school you want, you will have been sent details of how to appeal. You have every right to appeal to all of the schools which you named on your preference form and did not get, but you need to approach it in the knowledge that unless you have grounds as outlined above, it is unlikely to be successful. Check out how The Good Schools Guide's  school appeals service can help your family.

What if I can’t appeal my primary school place?

If you are still unhappy with your allocated primary school, but you can’t appeal, get as involved with the school as you can. If you have any time during the school day, volunteer to hear children read or help out with messy activities or on school trips. You will be benefiting your child and may be reassured by seeing a lot of good work going on.

And remember, the biggest contribution you can make to your child’s education is what you do with them yourself. Spending time reading with them, taking them out to interesting places, talking to them, keeping them well stocked up with library books – all of this can go a long way to counteract a less than perfect school. 

If you had thought that you might one day be willing to pay school fees, maybe now is a good time to look into it. It’s possible that The Good Schools Guide carries reviews of junior schools in your area, so take a look at our school search.Also, if you would like the help and support of an experienced guiding hand, arrange a time to speak with one of our education consultants. Phone 020 3286 6824 or email [email protected] - for more information please visit The Good Schools Guide Education Consultants.

Photo credit: The St Marylebone CE School

We can help with your school appeal

Schedule an online or telephone consultation of up to 90 minutes (including a follow up summary) with our highly experienced appeals expert. Your consultant will listen to your particular circumstances, suggest ways of approaching your appeal which will optimise your chances of success, advise on documentation you will need, guide you on how to prepare for the appeals hearing, and give advice on dos and don’ts. She will be frank and realistic and tell you what your chances of success are. If you would like to find out more about our services, visit the School Appeals Service for more information or email [email protected].

Most popular Good Schools Guide articles

  • Choosing a school - tips for parents

    What do you want for your child? State school or fee-paying? Day or boarding school? Single sex or co-education? It helps to have a game plan, even if you change it at a later date. What do you want from the school? Undoubtedly you want to find a great school, one that's ideal for your child, with great teaching and possibly good facilities to match.

  • Mix and match state and private education

    All those scary newspaper statistics about the long-term costs of keeping your child in nappies and birthday presents pale into insignificance when set beside the £250,000+ you’ll need to educate a child privately from nursery to university. But paying for a private education from finger painting to Freshers’ Week is not an option for most families. .

  • Secondary schools – top tips when applying

    The Good Schools Guide has been helping parents choose the right school for their children for more than 30 years. Here are our top tips and pitfalls to avoid on your secondary school application, which is due to land with your local authority by 31 October.

  • Secondary school admissions

    For a place at secondary school, you must apply through your local authority, even if it’s linked to your child’s current primary school. Normal secondary school admissions are at 11+ into year 7. Applications open on different days in each local council area - usually at the start of the autumn term of year 6, though for most grammar schools you will need to register for the entrance test during the summer term of year 5.

  • A guide to state schools

    In the UK, a state school provides a free education for children aged between 4 and 18. State schools are government-funded, paid for by taxes, and every child in the country is entitled to a place. 

Subscribe for instant access to in-depth reviews:

☑ 30,000 Independent, state and special schools in our parent-friendly interactive directory
☑ Instant access to in-depth UK school reviews
☑ Honest, opinionated and fearless independent reviews of over 1,200 schools
☑ Independent tutor company reviews

Try before you buy - The Charter School Southwark

Buy Now

GSG Blog >

The Good Schools Guide newsletter

Educational insight in your inbox. Sign up for our popular newsletters.


Our most recent newsletter: