It’s an anxious, exciting time of year for many parents and carers applying for primary school places at mainstream schools, (speaking from experience).

While everyone hopes for the best, the reality is that not all families will be offered what they were hoping for, at least initially. Minds will soon be swimming with talk of published admission numbers, oversubscription criteria and waiting lists.

Parents unhappy with a refusal decision from their preferred maintained primary school can appeal to an independent panel that is convened by the local authority and made up of volunteers from the local community (at least one of whom may have a background in education) plus a legally-qualified clerk who is independent from the local authority and the school.

I’ve been a clerk at a number of these appeal hearings. It’s generally quite an informal and user-friendly experience. You probably won’t need a lawyer representing you at the hearing, but you may want to make yourself familiar with law in this area (including the local authority’s admissions criteria, which vary depending on the authority) and discuss your situation with someone experienced before writing your grounds of appeal and presenting your case.

The key guidance documents from the Department for Education are:

A few pointers for anyone considering an appeal where the oversubscription criteria have been applied:

  • Read the refusal letter/s carefully as this should explain the reasons for the decision and explain how the appeal process works. You have 20 school days to lodge an appeal, starting from the date that you were notified of the decision.
  • In all cases, the panel must consider first whether the admissions criteria comply with the legislation [1] and whether they were correctly applied to the child. An appeal may be allowed at this stage where the criteria are not correctly applied if, but for the error, the child would have been offered a place and the admission of a further child would not prejudice the provision of efficient education or efficient use of resources.
  • There are very strict legal limits on class-sizes in Reception, Years 1 and 2 (also called ‘infant class-size’ limits). These years must not have classes with more than 30 pupils unless there are exceptional circumstances. [2] If the criteria are lawful, have been correctly applied and the relevant year group in the School is full, an appeal will only succeed where the refusal decision was not one that a reasonable admission authority would have made in the circumstances of the case. This is a very demanding test. It requires parents to show that the decision was absurd when compared with the admissions criteria and that no reasonable decision-maker would have refused to offer a place.
  • Outside of ‘infant classes’ (so for Years 3 to 6), the test is much broader and involves 2 stages. First, the panel must consider in relation to each child whether the admissions arrangements complied with the law and were applied correctly and impartially. If any of these requirements are not met then the appeal will be allowed. Second, and alternatively, an appeal may be allowed where the prejudice to the school caused by admitting a further child into the relevant year group is outweighed by the case for the child to be admitted to the school. Parents should identify their reasons for preferring the school and why the child’s interests can only be met by that school. The convenience of the school run for working or single parents won’t generally be sufficient because the main focus should be on the child’s interests, not the social circumstances of the parents.

If you’d like to book a consultation to discuss your circumstances / appeal, get in touch with me for more information, including fees.


[1] Part 3 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998.

[2] See the School Admissions (Infant Class Sizes) (England) Regulations 2012.

Posted by Ben Amunwa

Founder and editor of Ben is a commercial and public law barrister with The 36 Group. He gives expert legal advice on employment, public law and commercial disputes to a wide range of clients.

One Comment

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