Beverley Watkins of Watkins Solicitors offers advice to families whose children haven’t been given a place in the secondary school of their choice

March 1 is ‘D Day’ for many parents waiting to hear which secondary school their child has been allocated.

For many families, the anxious wait will be over and you may well hear the collective sigh of relief. However, for families who have not been allocated the school of their choice, an appeal process is available. Do remember that while parents have the ‘right to express a preference’, their child does not have the right to have the school of their choice.

If your child has Special Educational Needs and an Educational Healthcare Plan (EHCP), then the usual admission process does not apply. If you believe that your child has Special Educational Needs and should have a EHCP Plan, you should make your request for a statutory assessment early.

If your child is not allocated the school of your choice, the following are some handy hints to follow –

1. Discuss with your child the school allocated and reconsider whether it is a school you might be willing to accept. While the ultimate decision will be made by adults, your child’s wishes and feelings should be a factor.

2. If you really are not happy with the school allocated, then consider appealing.

3. As the first step of the appeal process, check if the allocation of places has been in accordance with the published admission criteria. Occasionally schools and Local Authorities make mistakes.

4. The appeal process has two stages and it is important to prepare for each stage.

Stage 1 The school has to show that the admission of further pupils will result in ‘prejudice’ to other pupils at the school. This is not the same as the, ‘The school has reached its admission number and is full’. Stage 1 is often a group hearing where you should not ask any questions about your child’s specific circumstances and you should not mention individual circumstances. The sort of questions you might ask at this stage are;
– Have there been any health and safety issues at the school?
– Are there any specific difficulties at lunch time?
– How many children are to be in each class in Year 7? How is Year 7 to be organised?
– Are there sufficient outdoor play areas?
– Are there sufficient lockers in the school?
– Are there any particular difficulties at lesson change over?
– What are the number of children with an EHCP in Year 7?
– What is staff turnover like?
– Ask for details of classroom occupancy.

If you know the answer to some of these questions, and they are not helpful to your case, then do not ask them!

Stage 2 This will be heard in private. It is your chance to explain the specific reasons why you want your child to be admitted to a specific school.
– Stating that this is the school you have chosen and where your child wants to go will not be sufficient.
– Stating that this is the best school for your child, will not be sufficient.
– Stating that the school is close to where you work will not be sufficient.
– If the school allocated would be difficult for your child to get to because of the route e.g. the school is located on a dual carriageway with no pavements, then provide details including photos. If you provide photos, make sure that you provide six copies plus one for yourself.
– If you want your child to go to a specific school because you don’t want them to attend the same school as other children who have caused your child problems at primary school, then provide evidence of problems.
– If you want your child to go to a specific school because the school has facilities to promote a specific talent of your child e.g. your child plays the flute and wishes to be part of an orchestra, provide evidence of your child’s ability to play the flute and evidence that the school offered does not have similar facilities.
– If there are exceptional circumstances, again, provide evidence.

If you are unsuccessful, you do not have a further right of appeal. You can however make a complaint to the Ombudsman (click here) if you feel the correct procedure was not followed, or in exceptional circumstances you may have grounds for Judicial Review. However, for most parents if unsuccessful, there will be nothing further that can be done.

If you would like to know more about school admissions, visit the Watkins Solicitors’ website: http://www.watkinssolicitors.co.uk/ or contact Beverley Watkins, Solicitor on 0117 939 0350.