What to do if you don’t get your first choice primary school

How do I respond to an offer?

The letter or email received on national offer day will contain instructions and a deadline for accepting or declining a primary school place.

Parents and guardians must respond by the deadline or the place can be withdrawn and given to another child.

School Appeals advises parents to accept an offer from one of their top three choices, even if they plan to appeal a rejection elsewhere as, if the appeal is unsuccessful, they will be offered a place at a local school which still has space available which may be more unsatisfactory.

What happens if my child hasn’t got a place?

If an application has been unsuccessful, there are four options: parents can choose to accept the alternative offer of a school that has enough space, put their child on the waiting list of their preferred schools, make an appeal or, if they are able and willing to, consider paying for private education.

Every school must keep a waiting list for at least the first term of each academic year. Parents may find that space opens up as families move houses or circumstances change.

Parents can also appeal to rejection. The letter or email received on offer day will include instructions on how to start this process. There is plenty of time to prepare, as the admission authority for a school must allow 20 school days from the date of the decision letter for parents to lodge an appeal.

Each rejection must be appealed individually and can only be appealed once per academic year (except in exceptional circumstances). Once the appeal has been submitted in writing, the admission authority will set a deadline for parents to submit evidence and information to support their appeal.

The appeal itself takes place at a hearing in front of an independent panel of at least three people. Parents who have applied for an appeal must be given 10 days notice of the hearing date and will be sent a decision within five school days of the hearing. The Good Schools Guide estimates that 20 per cent of appeals are successful.

What grounds are there to appeal a decision?

An appeal will be upheld if the panel decides a school has not complied with the school admissions code or properly followed their admissions criteria. Parents must be able to provide evidence for this. An appeal is more likely to be successful if this is corroborated with letters or evidence from professionals like a doctor or social worker.

What does this mean in practice? If a child has a medical or special educational need that can only be met by a certain school, or if the admissions criteria have been applied incorrectly, then an appeal could be upheld.

Many of the circumstances which may seem like reasonable grounds to appeal such as commuting distance or childcare arrangements have been rejected in the past, according to the Good Schools Guide. A poor Ofsted rating or parents wanting children to be placed in a more reputable school are also not necessarily reasons to appeal.

School Appeals offers expert guidance to parents wishing to appeal a school’s decision and also offers a free e-book on how to prepare.

What are the admissions criteria for primary school?

Admissions criteria vary by school and local authority, but according to government guidelines, priority is likely to be given to children who:

  • Live close to the school
  • Have a sibling at the school
  • Are from a particular religion (for faith schools)
  • Pass an entrance exam (for selective schools)
  • Went to a particular primary school (a ‘feeder school’)
  • Are eligible for the pupil premium or the service pupil premium
  • Have a parent who has worked at the school for 2 years or more

How to make the best of a child’s primary school place

It’s understandable that parents can feel disappointed and frustrated if they don’t get a space in the primary school of their choice. But if an appeal is unlikely to be successful and there aren’t other options, there are plenty of ways parents can make the most of their child’s first years in education, whichever primary school they’ve been placed in.

Investing in a child’s education out of school hours is paramount – reading, talking and games are all important parts of how a child learns, and parents can continue with these elements of their education regardless of the quality of their school.

The Good Schools Guide advises parents not to rule out the school they have been offered. Parents should visit, talk to teachers and other parents and get a feel for the place. They may be pleasantly surprised.

Volunteering and getting involved with after school clubs or school trips is another way for parents to feel like they are part of a school community.

This article has been updated with the latest information for Primary School Offer Day 2022.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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