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Secondary school appeals advice from The Good Schools Guide - Holland Park School, West London

Can I appeal my child's secondary school offer?

You have a legal right to appeal to any school named on your original preference form. This will come as a huge relief to those still suffering from the shock of receiving an offer for ‘Unpopular Academy’ instead of the high-flying secondary school you preferred. But it’s vital to have a back-up plan alongside the appeals process.

It’s impossible to put a figure on your chances of success, though we do know that on average in England, around 20 per cent succeed overall. 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.

This article tells you what you need to know about the secondary school appeals process. If it all looks too daunting to tackle on your own, The Good Schools Guide Education Consultants can advise you and guide you through the whole process. Contact us on [email protected]

School appeals - what first?

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, or to screw it up and throw it in the bin. 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.

Get on the waiting list for any schools you prefer (this can include ones you didn’t put on your preference form). There’s a big shake out between National Offer Day and the start of the academic year in September, and places 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. Go and visit and see for yourself, and also use it as a research trip to find details you need for your appeal.

If your child is gifted or talented, investigate if any local private schools still have spaces and a scholarship/bursary to offer.

Grounds for a secondary school appeal

Successful school appeals can be approved in two circumstances: 1) When a school has applied its admissions procedures incorrectly (rare as hens’ teeth), or 2) When the harm done to your child by not getting a place there will be greater than that caused to all the other children by overcrowding.

Check the school website for admissions procedure: to win a case under point 1 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. So 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 religion or 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 are the academic attainments at the school you’ve been offered? Do reasonable numbers stay in the sixth form and go on to university, if this is what your child wants and her own academic record would suggest this is likely? If not, you could argue that this school will not enable her to reach her full potential.
  • Can he/she keep up an instrument or sport they excel at here? Does your child have a particular aptitude in the school’s specialism?
  • Is transport to the school you’ve been offered impossible? (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 make the same journey, you will have no grounds). But a journey requiring three changes, and the potential for your child to be stranded 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 to win a secondary school appeal? Concentrate on education and well-being arguments, not the number of brownie badges your daughter has, or the fact that your son always helps old ladies across the road. Don’t denigrate the school you have been offered: remember you are appealing for a school place, not against the one you have been given. 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.

Try our school appeals service if you're still daunted

An online or telephone consultation of up to 90 minutes with our highly experienced appeals expert costs £370, including a follow up summary. 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 or email [email protected] for more information.

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