Top Tips To Win Your Secondary School Appeal

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In March every year, hundreds of thousands of parents across England and Wales will have discovered the school that they have been allocated for their ten year-old who will be moving up to secondary school in September.  There will also be many who unfortunately have not received their first preference and indeed there will be others who will have received none of the preferences that parents would have included on their admission application form.

 

There is, however, an appeal mechanism which allows parents to put their case to a panel who are completely independent from the school or local authority and that appeal panel has the power to allocate places at the school should they feel that the case is exceptional.

 

Although many parents do go down the appeal route, they completely underestimate the process which is often stressful and complex.  Most parents also do not realise that when they get to an appeal, there will either be someone from the local education authority or the school who is a trained professional and will be arguing against them (i.e. an appeal by its very nature is adversarial).

 

The good news is that there is a wealth of information out there which can enable a parent to put together a rational, reasoned and well evidenced case in respect of their own personal circumstances and also enable them to challenge the case that is against them, which is normally that the school is full up and to admit any further children would have a detrimental effect on the running of the school.

 

Set out below are some useful initial tips for parents who are embarking upon the appeal process.

 

Tip 1 – Prepare, prepare and prepare some more!

 

If as a parent, if you think you are able to knock together a couple of sides of A4 and send this in prior to the appeal hearing, turn up on the day of the hearing and read it out there will only be one outcome – you will lose your appeal!

 

You should be planning your appeal from the moment you realise that you do not have the school that you were looking for.  Start collecting relevant evidence from the school as early as possible and gather everything you can in both relation to both the school that you want and the school that you have not been offered.

 

The best example that I can give in terms of the level of preparation you should make is to think about how much effort, time and potentially money you put into passing a driving test.  Not only is there theory to be learnt, but also practical.  If you do not put the hours in behind the wheel, you are almost certain to fail the test.

 

Winning an appeal, or at least having a good chance at an appeal is very similar.  It takes hours of work and research to put together a good case and to be able to argue against the reasons that the school or local education authority are putting forward that a place cannot be offered.  Put those hours in and you will put yourself in with a better chance than most.

 

Tip 2 – Know your rights!

 

Schools and admission authorities usually ask for parents’ appeal submissions to be with them by a given date well in advance of the appeal hearing.  Why is this?  Administratively, it is far easier for them if parents’ submissions come in on one day and can then simply be stored until the appeal hearing.  It is also advantageous potentially to them if parental submissions are rushed in terms of preparation time.  Here is what most people do not know.

 

The School Admission Appeals Code of Practice 2012 allows a parent to submit information prior to the hearing as long as it is given in a reasonable time frame.  Effectively, this means that all you need to do for your appeal form is provide outline reasons of your case and you can then buy yourself the time that will be needed to prepare a much more detailed and well evidenced appeal submission which will put forward your case.

 

Bear in mind that most schools or local education authorities will ask for appeal forms by the end of March.  However, most secondary school appeals will not be until May or June which gives you another 6-8 weeks to prepare your documentation.

 

At School Appeals Services we tend, after liaising with the admission authority, to submit a detailed parent submission approximately two weeks before the hearing.  This allows us to get as much information as possible and to get our submission right before it is submitted.

 

So, do not follow the crowd and simply put in something relatively hasty and short and then forget about it before the hearing.  Take your time and prepare something that is robust, reasoned, rational and well evidenced.

 

Tip 3 – Provide evidence

 

Every claim that you make in your appeal submission is just that, a claim without it being evidenced independently.  Seek out documentation from appropriate professionals or individuals in relation to the reasons you are putting forward.  Remember, this is effectively a legal tribunal you are going to and the laws of evidence and natural justice will apply.  It may be that an appeal panel will believe you in terms of your reasoning, but they will definitely believe you if you are able to prove that.

 

Although not everything can be proved 100%, many things can and it is simply impossible for you to say at an appeal hearing that you can provided evidence at a later date because it will not be accepted.  I am astounded at the number of parents who appear before me when I am chairing appeal panels who simply think that just because they say it is true, whether that be in relation to a medical condition, a property issue or something else which is crucial to the case, that they think that I have to believe them.  While I might want to believe them, it is a statement of fact that as an appeal panel chairman, I should have before me evidence of that particular claim.

 

Tip 4 – The school/local education authority case for over-capacity

 

In the vast majority of appeals, the school or local authority has to convince an appeal panel that it is at its capacity for admissions and cannot take any further pupils over that number.  In effect, a school has to prove that to admit further pupils over that number will have a detrimental or prejudicial effect on their resources or manner in which those children are educated.  In my experience, 9 out of 10 parents simply accept this as a given which is in my view, a huge mistake.  What a parent should do is to try and collect and then put forward at a hearing information which potentially negates the school case.

 

Bear in mind that just because a headteacher or local education authority say that there will be a detrimental effect, they need to prove it and in the same way that you have to prove your personal case to an appeal panel and provide evidence, the onus is also on the school or local education to do the same.  Bear in mind that the appeal is a two-stage process.  The panel consider the school or local education authority case and weigh that against your own personal case.  If you can weaken or challenge the local education authority case, then the appeal panel are more likely to allow your appeal – it is as simple as that.

 

Tip 5 – Your behaviour at the hearing

 

Given my experience of sitting on appeal panels, I am surprised at the defensive and sometimes hostile nature of parents who appear at a hearing.  Many people who come before me seem to be angry at the decision not to offer their child a place.  Some of those people seem to displace their anger on to the appeal panel.  The appeal panel are completely independent of the school or local education authority, so if there is any fault to be attributed, it is certainly not towards the appeal panel.

 

With any client that I am working with either preparing them for a hearing or attending a hearing with them, I advise them to be charming, respectful and friendly.

 

The appeal hearing itself which can be anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour, is in my view a performance.  In that time you will need to get across your case in an assertive but friendly manner.  While in theory appeals should be decided on the cold hard facts and the evidence that is put forward by both parties, it is human nature that appeal panels will be influenced by the manner in which an appeal is put across.  While I do not say that it is right, it is after having attended over a thousand appeals, I know that nice people win more appeals than angry people.

 

Remember this in terms of your attitude and behaviour on the day of the hearing.

 

Tip 6 – Getting the right advice and guidance

 

Make no mistake that if you are going down the appeal route, you are about to enter a legal process whereby a legal tribunal (the appeal panel) will decide whether your appeal is upheld or dismissed based upon the laws of evidence, the principles of natural justice and the various codes of practice and statutory legislation on the subject.  Given this and the importance that most parents place upon their appeal in terms of their son’s or daughter’s lives, I find it surprising that very few parents seek professional help or support in the preparation and conducting of their appeal.  I doubt very much whether a parent would conduct their own defence in a court of law or not use a solicitor to when buying a property to conduct searches etc, so why gamble with such an important educational decision by going it alone.

 

Most admission authorities’ information leads parents to believe that they do not need representation or advice prior to hearings.  In some cases I would agree and if there are simply no good reasons with appealing, then whoever assists you is unlikely to secure a win.  However, not to find that out I think is often a strange decision on behalf of parents and it has to be said that going to an appeal hearing is not a cosy chat, it can be a difficult and daunting legal process where a parent may be up against an educational professional or headteacher who is highly experienced in that particular field.

 

So, whether it be the purchase of a book on the subject or a short conversation with an educational consultant or solicitor, it is well worth seeing whether getting the right guidance or representation will help you.  As said, sometimes there is no case to be put forward, but in the vast majority of people that I speak to, their cases can be significantly improved by getting the right advice and guidance.

 

For more information on school admission appeals and the work of School Appeals Services, parents can go to www.schoolappeals.com

9 Responses to Top Tips To Win Your Secondary School Appeal

  1. Ruhina says:

    Hi ,
    I have appointment for appeal tomorrow , I don’t know what to say to them as I have written everything in appeal application .. how should I convince them ??

  2. Kerry says:

    Hi
    I really need your help in making a statement to appeal a secondary school refusal.
    I made an application online in October it was only when I didn’t receive a letter on the 1st march I queried this with the admissions team to be told they did not receive an application. I’m sure I submitted correctly but cannot prove this. In the mean time I have sent in an application for our preferred school which has been refused as it is now full and we 27th on the waiting list.
    My son is devastated and is going through an already tough time, without going into too much detail there is a court case which he may need to give evidence against his brother on a very serious charge. Our support network is around our preferred school with his cousin starting the same time as he would be due to and our closest friends son in the year above who would help with looking after him after school when I’m in work as he does not like to be home on his own.
    Thank you

  3. Lisa says:

    Hi I need help what are the best ways to win a higher school appeal. Thanks

  4. Nabila zafar says:

    Hi i need help.
    My daughter has been refused admission in primary school for year 5.The offered by the councils 1.1 miles away and being a single mother I cant afford a private cab as it is too expensive
    and sending a 8 year old in a bus is very scary
    I am in a full time employment and I dont drive either?
    My elder daughter has been offered a place in olchfa swansea and my choice of school is parkland primary swansea and both can then walk to and fro from school as they are close/ can you help me in writing a successful appeal please

  5. Donna Wragg says:

    My husband’s son has lost out on his first choice secondary school because his mother did not make the application on time. She has now made the application and it has been refused indicating there are no places left and my husband’s son will have to attend a school over 14 miles away. What are the changes of successfully appealing this? Would appreciate any advice.

  6. Karen morgan says:

    Hi, my son and his family are moving to be closer to me and they would like his son to go to our local high school. We don’t want him to have to make new friends at one school where they are living now and then have to move again when the move takes place this year. Please can you advise the best way to challenge the school decision not to accept him.As parents/grandparents we are the only support they have and we would like to help them the best way possible. Thank you .

  7. hi my child didnt receive any of her choice of preference. I have placed her on waiting list what advice do u give to me to present at appeal. I and my partner work full time n dont have much support for my child to attend school far from home. also we went through few years of vandalism which puts my child at risk n her safety is paramount to me. I have three other children n organising school run will be much harder if she gets school very distant from our home. Also I had friends who were willing to support me with school runs in my preference.

  8. Anita kanji says:

    I really need help for win appeal and I want know how I able show panel good comments. We are parents to my son and we are deaf and we are second language English the reason how I make good comments?
    I appreciate if you give us any good advise.

    Thank you
    Anita

  9. Mrs Rosemary Steel says:

    To whom this may concern.
    I really need help to try to WIN an appeal.
    I seem to freeze at the thought of an appeal.
    Would you be so kind to advise.
    Kind regards

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