Primary school offers 2023: appealing against a decision

Last modified on Friday 14 April 2023

It's National Offer Day 2023 for primary schools in England on 17 April 2023. Here's what you need to know about how you'll find out which school your child got into, and what to do if your child didn't get your first choice of primary school.

During National School Offer Day 2023 for primary school, children across the country discover which primary school they are due to attend in September 2023.

In 2022, more than 92% of children got their first choice of primary school, according to official figures . Yet while it was good news for thousands of kids (and parents!), it still meant many primary school children missed out on their first choice of school.

With National Offer Day for primary school in England approaching, we're sharing what you need to know if you don’t get the school you wanted and if you are thinking about appealing.

When will I find out which primary school my child got into?

On National Offer day (or allocation day), which is Monday 17 April 2023 , you'll receive an email or letter stating which school your child got a place at.

You can also log on to the admissions website in the evening to find out, if you've not already heard. Make sure you have your parent ID, username and password to hand!

Hopefully, it'll be good news. If that's the case, just remember to accept the place by the deadline given in the letter or email so you don't lose out on a space.

How many children get into their first choice primary school?

According to figures from the Department of Education, 92.2% of children received an offer at their first choice primary school in 2022. And 98.1% received an offer from one of their top 3 choices.

Sam Murray from ACE Education , an organisation providing state school information and advice to parents, says:

'In those weeks after National Offer Day nearly all the calls we receive are related to school places and it can be stressful for parents.

'There are a number of things you can do and remember: even if you haven’t got what you want in April, try and stay calm – it’s a long time until September.'

What to do if your child doesn't get their first choice school

If you don’t get your first choice, there are 2 main options.

You can either:

  • accept the place but go on a 'continuing interest' list
  • appeal against the decision (and again, go on the continuing interest list for other schools)

Find out more about what these entail, below ...

My child didn't get a place at our first choice school – what next?

The first thing to remember is: don't panic! There's still a chance you could get the primary school you want.

When you receive written notification of your child’s allocated school place, the email or letter will give full details of how to start the appeal process and when this needs to be done by. Important things to note are:

  • You have a legal right to appeal against a school place decision.
  • You can appeal against each school place decision but you must appeal each rejection separately.
  • The admission authority for the school must give you at least 20 school days to appeal from when they sent the admissions letter.
  • You must inform the local authority of your decision to appeal in writing. You’ll then be given a date for your appeal hearing at least 10 days in advance.

What are my chances of winning a school place appeal?

At this stage, it’s useful to be realistic about your chances of winning an appeal.

According to the latest Department of Education figures , 9,672 primary school appeals (1.2% of all admissions) were heard in 2021/22. Of these, just 21,667 (17.2%) were successful and decided in the parents’ favour.

Sam adds:

'The best thing you can do as a parent is to make sure you understand how the appeal panel are going to reach their decision and what they can take into account, because it is limited.

'Some parents will decide it’s not worth it, while other parents will think, "I’ve got nothing to lose and I understand how limited my chance of success is but I’m going to do it anyway."'

What do I do about the school place my child did get offered?

As soon as you receive the letter allocating your child's place, it's a good idea to accept it while you decide what to do .

Accepting the place given to you won't affect your chances of getting a school you prefer, either by going on the continuing interest list (which is basically a waiting list) for a particular school, or through a school place appeal.

We've got more details about how do both of these, below.

Once you've accepted the place, arrange to go and see it, especially if you haven't already visited the school. You never know, you might be fine with it.

If you turn down the place you might find that you have no school place for your child in September, or that you have another school allocated by the LEA.

Remember that it is a legal requirement for all children aged 5 and over to be in full-time education.

What is a continuing interest list?

Also referred to as a continued interest list, a continuing interest list is the official waiting list system that lets other schools know you'd still be interested in accepting a place, if one becomes available.

Although there's no guarantee this will happen, there can be a lot of movement once places are allocated.

This can be due to people moving out of the area or choosing to go to a private school instead, which means places become free in time for the new term.

Sam says: 'Make sure you understand how that waiting list is ranked.

'Sometimes I speak to parents and they say they didn’t get any of their schools and feel it’s unfair they are lower down the list than someone who got at least 1 of their schools.

'But the continued interest lists aren’t based on that. They're based on the oversubscription criteria for the school – for example distance.

'The fact you didn’t get any of the schools you wanted won’t give you any priority.'

Sam recommends calling the school and asking how many people were admitted from the list last year. This will give you an idea whether you’re likely to get a place.

How do I get on a continuing interest list?

Your child's name should automatically be placed on the waiting list for any school that was a higher preference on your application form than the school you’ve been offered.

It's also worth contacting the local authority that the school is in – or the school itself – to check your child is on the waiting list, and how high up you are.

There are usually 2 rounds of continuing interest lists: if you're successful at the first continuing interest run you'll usually find out in May 2023. (The exact dates differ depending on the school and local authority.)

Continuing interest applications then open for the second run. At this point, you can add new school preferences for the second continuing interest run. If you're successful at this second round, you'll find out in June 2023 , although if places become available later than this, you can find out at any point over the summer.

There are 2 things to bear in mind if you're on a continuing interest list:

  • You can move down a continued interest list as well as up.
  • Accepting the place you've been offered does not affect your chances of a waiting list place in any other school.

You'll automatically lose your existing place at a school if you get a space via a waiting list. If you do decide you'd rather stick with the original place you've accepted, make sure you take yourself off any continuing interest lists.

How do I appeal against a school's decision for places?

When the LEA send you details of the school place offered, they will also send you details of how to make an appeal against this decision and the deadline by which you need to do this.

This year, the deadline for appeals is in May 2023 – the actual date varies depending on where the school is, so do check to make sure you appeal in time.

The appeal arrangements may differ depending on how the school is managed, for example if it's a local authority school, an academy or foundation voluntary aided school.

What are the grounds for appealing against a primary school place decision?

Check the school’s admissions policy carefully before appealing. According to the Department of Education , the appeal panel can only look at a certain number of issues:

  • The lawfulness of the admission arrangements.
  • If a mistake was made in not offering your child a place.
  • And/or if it was unreasonable to refuse your application.

For children in infant schools (Reception, Year 1 and Year 2), the legal maximum size of the class is 30.

Legally, there are only a few reasons why a child can be admitted over this size, which means it’s highly unlikely that your appeal will be successful if the classes already have 30 children in them.

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How does the school's appeal process work?

The ‘admission authority’ for the school (usually the school itself or the council) must give you at least 10 school days’ notice of the hearing.

Appeals must be heard within 40 school days of the deadline for making an appeal.

There’s an independent panel of three or more people at each appeal hearing. Coronavirus restrictions may mean your panel is virtual rather than in-person.

Here's what to expect:

  • The admission authority will explain why they turned down your application.
  • You’ll be able to give your own reasons why your child should be admitted.
  • The appeals panel must decide if the school’s admission criteria were properly followed and are legal according to the school admissions appeals code.
  • If the criteria are legal and were properly followed, the panel must decide if they were followed fairly and thoroughly.
  • If the criteria weren’t properly followed or are illegal, your appeal must be upheld.
  • If your appeal has not already been upheld, the panel will decide if your reasons for your child to be admitted outweigh the school’s reasons for not admitting another child.

You will usually find out the panel's decision within 5 school days .

Sam adds: 'For lots of parents it’s not until they sit down in their appeal hearing that they understand how limited their chance is.

'Parents go through appeal and think they will tell the panel why they like the school. The panel aren’t looking at that – they're looking at when your application was considered and why the school said they couldn't give your child a place, and if that was unreasonable."

A panel’s decision can only be overturned by a court. If there’s a change in your circumstances which could affect the decision, you may be able to appeal again.

What do I need for the appeals hearing?

In the paperwork that you submit before the appeal you'll need to show why your child needs to go to the school you are appealing for.

Remember, you need to build a case for why your child should get a place at their preferred school rather than why you don’t want them to go to the school they’ve been allocated.

Sam says: 'In terms of how you prepare for the appeal, if you think a mistake has been made and the school disagrees with you, then you’ll present any evidence you’ve got. For example: they measured your distance from the school wrongly.

'If you think a policy is unlawful again, what is your evidence of that.'

What happens after the hearing?

The panel then has to decide whether you or the school has the strongest case. You’ll be told their decision within 5 working days.

If you are unsuccessful, you can’t appeal to the same school again but you can still put your child’s name on the school’s waiting list.

You can, however, appeal at other schools that you applied for.

What happens if my appeal is unsuccessful?

There are further legal routes you can consider pursuing.

You can complain to the Ombudsman but this is limited to complaints about procedural errors. Find out more at the Local Government Ombudsman website.

It may be that you will now be considering private education or home educating. If you are unsure which route to pursue, why not find out more about homeschooling?

The Independent Schools Council website is also useful – you can search for independent schools in your area and find out more about the admissions and selection process.

You can also search your local Netmums listings of independent schools in your area.

Finally, if your circumstances change (perhaps you've moved house and are closer to the school, or your child has had a special need diagnosed) you may be able to make a completely new application to the school of your choice.

Does my child have to go to school if they are under-5?

If you're unhappy with the Reception place you've been given and your child is not yet 5, there is another alternative.

Sam says: 'Your child doesn’t legally need to be in full-time education until the start of the term after they turn 5.

'If you're really disappointed with the school you’ve been given and kept your name on the waiting list for other schools, you might decide not to send your child to any school to see if your place on the waiting list at a preferred school comes up. Parents have the right to accept the place but not take it up.

'Your child can also attend part-time until they reach compulsory school age so, again, you might choose to send your child for just a few hours a day until they are 5. In the meantime a place might come up at another school. It’s just another thing a parent can think about.'

More guidance

  • If you're not sure which Local Education Authority (LEA) you fall under you can find a comprehensive list on the GOV.UK website.
  • Read our education section for information about primary and secondary education, including local schools listings and details of local admissions offices.
  • Visit the website for up-to-date, national information on choosing a school, the admissions process and how to appeal.
  • Contact your Local Education Authority with any specific questions you have, and to confirm important dates such as application deadlines and when you'll find out which school your child has been offered a place at.

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