11 plus appeals

Section C: Appeals For An Oversubscribed School

Introduction

This section deals with the ‘normal prejudice’ two-stage process (where the appeal panel considers the admission authority’s case that further admissions will cause prejudice, and the appellant’s reasons for wanting a place).

Please note that a new Appeals Code came into force on 1 February 2012 and applies to all appeals lodged on or after that date.

For a summary of some of the key questions and answers, start here.

A lot of useful information can also be found on the Appeals Forum.

See also the thread feedback from all areas.

Note: Links to external websites were correct at the time of writing, but can easily become out of date. If you find a link does not work, please feel free to let us know on the Appeals Forum here.

C1 (a). What happens at Stage One of an appeal for an oversubscribed school?

When parents are appealing for a place at an oversubscribed school, at what is known as ‘Stage One’ the admission authority has to present its case in front of the panel and parents. The panel has to be satisfied that the authority has a case (i.e. the school is full, and the admission of an extra pupil will cause prejudice). From the parents’ perspective, of course, the difference between 30 pupils in a class and 31 may not seem particularly significant, but the line has to be drawn somewhere! I think panels are likely to look very closely at cases where the class size is below 30, although this might well be justified by the physical constraints of the accommodation. More often than not, the admission authority is able to satisfy the panel that it has a case, and the appeal moves on to “Stage 2” where the outcome will usually depend on the strength of the parents’ case relative to the strength of the school’s case.

Stage 1 is also known as a “Factual Stage” because the admission authority will be presenting factual information about the school.

These are some of the points that might be included:

Number on roll in all year groups
Net capacity
Size of classrooms
Temporary classrooms
Corridor widths
Building work
% occupancy of rooms
Availability of specialist rooms
Curriculum demands & availability of options
Other timetabling & accommodation problems
Number of full-time teaching staff
PTR/contact ratio
Recruitment & retention issues, unfilled vacancies, overseas teachers, NQTs
Number of children with statements & special needs
State of the school budget
Health and safety concerns
Any behavioural challenges
No. of computers & availability of other resources
Any other challenges faced by the school

Note 1: The purpose of some of this information will be to try and show that the school is fully ‘stretched’, and that the admission of even one extra child would be prejudicial.

Note 2: The admission authority might present its case in front of all the parents at the beginning of the appeals (this is referred to as a ‘group hearing’), or it might repeatedly present its case at each individual hearing. The former will mean that parents have to attend twice, but it has the advantage that the authority’s case will come under greater scrutiny, as parents will feel more confident in a group, and one question will often prompt another. The problem with individual stage ones, quite apart from the fact that they are a less efficient use of time, is that significant new information might emerge during the course of the appeals, especially during the question & answer session – and were that to happen, it would be necessary to recall all the previous appellants to pass on the same information and give them an opportunity to question it.

I have little doubt that group hearings are in the best interests of parents, and suspect that those authorities which prefer individual stage ones, even when there are many appellants, might be shying away from the more intense scrutiny of a group hearing.

C1 (b). Questions

After the admission authority has presented its case, there must be an opportunity for the panel and for parents to ask questions if they wish to do so.

i. It is perfectly reasonable for parents to say “We have no questions, thank you, because we do understand the case put forward by the authority”.

ii. It is perfectly reasonable for parents to ask for anything they have not understood to be explained. (Presenting officers sometimes forget that not everyone is going to understand some of the jargon and abbreviations used in education, even though the Code of Practice has previously warned that the use of jargon is to be avoided. The current slimmed-down Code omits this warning, but the avoidance of jargon should still be regarded as good practice.)

iii. It is perfectly reasonable for parents to ask a few probing questions such as “We see that the school has previously had to cope with one or two pupils above its admission number. Is there any hard evidence that this has caused prejudice?” See C8 .

iv. However, it is rarely a good idea for parents to make long rambling speeches at this point, to ask endless questions in order to ‘create an impression’, to appear over-critical, to engage in ‘nitpicking’ (raising trivial points), or to mount an ‘all-out war’ on the admission authority’s case.

v. Bear in mind that an appeal panel usually has a lot of experience within it, and in all probability is more than capable of analysing the authority’s case without anyone else’s help. By all means ask a few short, probing questions at stage 1 to try and dent the authority’s case a bit, but it is rare for an authority to lose at stage 1. If they do lose, that is a bonus that will almost certainly happen without any intervention on the part of parents. If you spend too long worrying about stage 1, it will risk distracting from what in most instances really matters. The vast majority of appeals are won or lost at stage 2, the parent’s case, and this is where your focus should be.

See also C29 and C30 .

C1 c). The admission arrangements

At every appeal the panel has to consider whether or not the admission arrangements are lawful and have been correctly applied. Sometimes parents point to a mistake made by the authority and claim ‘maladministration’. It is not maladministration, however, unless it can be shown that the child was thereby denied a school place to which he or she would otherwise have been entitled. This does not often happen! But, if there really has been maladministration on the part of the admission authority, depriving the child of a place, then the appeal is automatically upheld unless a number of other appellants would also have been offered a place but for the error, and to admit that number would seriously prejudice the provision of efficient education or efficient use of resources – in which case the panel must proceed to stage two and weigh up all the parents’ reasons for wanting a place.

C2 (a). Please explain the second stage of an appeal for an oversubscribed school. What sort of reasons can I put forward?

At Stage 2 the panel will want to hear your reasons for wanting a place at the school in question. Reasons will probably include one or more of the following:

  • (i) It’s the catchment school.
  • (ii) Proximity. Although not in catchment you live very close to the school.
  • (iii) Logistics. Getting to any suitable alternative school would be logistically difficult. (You would, I suggest, have to prove this, and I think the degree of inconvenience would need to be considerable). See C19 .
  • (iv) There is a sibling already at the school. (This may or may not be a sibling as defined in the admission arrangements, but that doesn’t necessarily matter if both children would be at the school at the same time – an appeal panel is not limited by the admission arrangements, it is free to consider any argument parents wish to put forward.)
  • (v) Family links. Other family members are attending or have attended the school. (Perhaps not a strong point but worth a brief mention.)
  • (vi) There are strong educational reasons. (I don’t mean a preference for a type of school such as a grammar school – I mean something specific on offer at this particular school which is not available at any suitable alternative. You would need to show why this is so important. See, for example, Dejavu’s case below.)

C2 a(vi). Dejavu’s case:

“The school has specialist science status. Daughter excels in maths and has a passion for science. She has always wanted to be a vet, and to realise these ambitions she would need to attain the very highest grades in sciences and maths. Appendices included letter from her Science Club teacher, marked SATS papers showing high levels for science and maths which daughter had brought home from school (as current school would not provide up-to-date info about daughter’s grades to support the appeal) – all the more remarkable as SATS are not age standardised and daughter was late August born, Gifted and Talented for maths, article from local press when interviewed about her high achievements in dog showing (long time interest in animals) in which it said in print ‘she has ambitions to be a vet’.”

See also C34: school specialisms .

  • (vii) There are strong medical or social reasons why your child needs to attend this particular school. (These are often the most compelling reasons, but you will need proof, and you will need to demonstrate convincingly why this school is the best solution.)

For example, there might be strong evidence from the primary school and from the family GP that (1) there is a history of the child having been seriously bullied, (2) all the bullies will be going to the allocated school, and (3) this is a vulnerable child who needs the support of friends, all of whom will be going to the school being appealed for.

C2 (b). The balancing stage

Stage 2 is sometimes called the ‘balancing stage’. The panel weighs up the prejudice that the admission of an extra child would cause, and balances that against the strength of the parental case. The side with the stronger case wins. You could have a strong case but lose the appeal because the panel decides the school case is even stronger. You might even have a weak case but win your appeal because the school case is even weaker!

Another factor that might influence the result is the number of appeals being heard at the same time. If you are appealing for a very popular school immediately after ‘National Allocations Day’ (allocation letters are posted on 1st March, or the first working day thereafter), there could be 20, 30 or even 40+ cases to be heard. These are known as ‘multiple appeals’, and no decision is taken on any individual case until all the timely appeals have been heard.

After hearing all the timely appeals, the panel (and it must be the same panel) has to balance each parental case against the prejudice to the school. They must then consider whether the school could cope with the total number of (potentially) successful appeals. If they decide the school could not cope, they are obliged to move away from “each case is considered purely on its own merits,” and they have to start comparing cases. They prioritise all the cases, and decide which of them to allow (up to the point where they judge the prejudice to the school has become too great).

C3. My Local Authority denies having received my Common Application Form, and says that I will miss the first round of allocations. I am now having to appeal for the school we want.

I’m afraid the onus is on you to prove that you sent it. Did you send it by recorded delivery? Did you request a receipt?

Everyone should take great care in all their dealings with officialdom. When making phone calls to the admission authority, make a note of the date and time, what was said, and who you spoke to. Try to get everything confirmed in writing or by email. Keep copies of all correspondence.

It’s no use turning up at an appeal much later on and claiming “I spoke to someone at County Hall round about a couple of months ago. Can’t remember who it was, but they guaranteed there’d be no problem with the school place ……. I’ve been misled. It’s maladministration!”

Here is an example of how things can go very wrong. This case didn’t get as far as an appeal, but it does serve to emphasise the importance of keeping a very careful record of all phone calls etc.

  1. At the time of CAF submission there was a strong possibility that we would be relocating to X authority.
  2. We contacted both X authority and X grammar school and explained the situation. Both advised us to put our local schools as normal and then to add X grammar school at the end of the list.
  3. Daughter took exam in Nov for X grammar school, received results letter in Dec. She passed the exam and the letter stated that they would be putting my daughter’s name forward to X LEA. It also stated that when offers came through we would have to inform our local authority that we would not be taking the place offered locally.
  4. On 2 March received no letter from X authority. Wife rang the school and they said that our daughter’s name was not on the list that they had received from X authority and we should speak to them as they deal with places. Rang X authority and they said that they had no record of my daughter. We would have to get in touch with our local authority, as they may not have sent a copy of the CAF.
  5. Spoke to our local authority. They confirmed that they had sent the CAF. The person actually remembered the application because it was unusual to have a school so far away on an application.
  6. Went back to X authority and informed them that we had spoken to our local authority and they had confirmed that they had sent details. Also told X authority that we had also sent a copy of our CAF to them in October (as advised at the time of application). We were told that a place shouldn’t be a problem as the school usually has reserve places and that we should contact the school directly and let them know we had spoken to X authority.
  7. Contacted school on Mon 5 March. Initially they said that we probably didn’t receive offer because we are out of area. Explained to them that our application hadn’t even been considered as X authority have no details of daughter. School then said that as all offer letters have gone out there is nothing they can do until all responses are received to offers (closing date of 23 March).
  8. Went back to X authority and they said they would contact school directly.
  9. Called X authority later that day and were told that they were trying to contact our local authority. Called towards the end of the day, again, and were informed that they had contacted our local authority and were satisfied that our local authority had sent details and that this has been communicated to the school. We should contact school again.
  10. Rang school a number of times on Tuesday 6 March. Each time were told that they (the school) had contacted our local authority themselves and were waiting for a response.
  11. Rang school on Wed 7 March and received same response.
    Wife then rang our local authority herself and was told that they had spoken to X authority on Monday and had clarified everything with them. Also they had not been contacted by the school directly and in any case would not deal with schools directly but with the LEA concerned.
  12. Rang school again and told them that we had just spoken to our local authority and were told that the school was actually waiting on X authority for a response.
  13. Rang X authority and they confirmed again that they had spoken to our local authority and cleared everything on Monday. However, school is not happy to accept what X authority are telling them and want proof from our local authority. X authority had spoken to our local authority and they had agreed to send documentary evidence. My wife mentioned again that we had sent a copy of our CAF to X authority when we had applied. Apparently X authority hadn’t thought of checking for that. They checked and have found the copy of the CAF that we had sent them. They have faxed this to the school.
  14. We will contact X authority and the school again today (and see which garden path they are going to lead us up today…)

Update:

Wife spoke to X authority yesterday and found that the person we had been dealing with had actually gone on annual leave. The person who she spoke to said my wife should deal with them now. My wife explained the situation and the person just wasn’t prepared to listen. Kept repeating that it just wasn’t possible for records to go missing and there was nothing that could be done. Fortunately, my wife had the name of the manager (of the first person we had spoken to) and asked to speak to him. He was busy but did ring back, and fortunately, was aware of our case.

Just reiterates your advice to get details of all you speak to (as well as additional contacts) and to be persistent.

Wife spoke to the school yesterday evening and ……… they have agreed to reserve a place for my daughter. They will keep the place until such time as we move into the area. Have asked for written confirmation (will believe it only when we see it, given what has happened to us so far).

If this bureaucratic nightmare had gone to appeal, the record of phone calls (with dates, times, and names of persons spoken to) would have been very useful evidence, and I think it likely that a panel would have been very sympathetic!

C4. My friend’s grounds for appeal are that her child needs a stable environment because she had had very unsettling past few years (parents separation + dad not being allowed direct contact with her daughter). She needs to move on to the same school as her friends. Would an appeal panel take these Extenuating circumstances into account?

An appeal panel should certainly consider your friend’s social reasons, but sadly the circumstances you describe are quite common.

I think your friend would need to demonstrate how seriously her daughter has been affected by the parental separation, and just how important the support of her peer group will be.

Is the daughter shy, nervous, and clearly needing the support of friends? Were the effects of the separation apparent to her present school or the GP? If so, the school and the GP should be asked if they would provide written evidence.

Sorry to say this, but the worse the circumstances surrounding the separation were, the stronger the case could be. (Panels are sometimes shown reports from police, social services, child guidance …).

C5. If a parent got an application in a couple of days late and because of that was offered a school 15 miles away, despite having a sibling at the local school would an appeal tribunal be sympathetic?

I think the answer is “not necessarily”! Deadlines are deadlines, but if the parent could show that there was good reason for the late application (e.g. illness) and that there will be serious problems if the children are at different schools, the case would stand a better chance.

C6. How is it that a school has exceeded its published admission number?

a. At an appeal, where it can be seen that the school has exceeded its admission number, it’s perfectly reasonable to ask at stage 1 for an explanation.

b. There are a number of reasons why this might have happened, e.g. previous successful appeals, the in-year admission of children with statements, a decision by the admission authority to rectify an administrative error that had deprived a child of a place to which he or she was entitled, the application of the fair access protocol.

c. Fair Access Protocols

Children can be admitted above the published admission number as part of fair access protocols. A fair access protocol tries to ensure that pupils who are otherwise hard to place can be admitted as quickly as possible to a school.

Protocols are to be agreed locally and must include, as a minimum, children of compulsory school age in the following categories:

* Children attending PRUs who need to be reintegrated back into mainstream education;
* Children who have been out of education for longer than one school term;
* Children whose parents have been unable to find them a place after moving to the area, because of a shortage of places;
* Children withdrawn from schools by their family, following fixed term exclusions and unable to find another place;
* Children of refugees and asylum seekers;
* Homeless children;
* Children with unsupportive family backgrounds, where a place has not been sought;
* Children known to the police or other agencies;
* Children without a school place and with a history of serious attendance problems;
* Traveller children;
* Children who are carers;
* Children with special educational needs (but without a statement);
* Children with disabilities or medical conditions;
* Children returning from the criminal justice system; and
* Children of UK service personnel and other Crown Servants.

C7. What is the situation regarding applications for a place in a different year group?

Although most children will be admitted to a school within their own age group, from time to time parents seek places outside their normal age group for gifted and talented children, or those who have experienced problems or missed part of a year, for example due to ill health. The 2009 Code said that admission authorities must make decisions on the basis of the circumstances of each case. Parents refused an application for a place at the school have a statutory right of appeal, but this does not apply if parents are offered a place other than the year group in which they applied for.

C8. At the hearing can I argue that the school took 5 over PAN several years ago?

You can – but I assume this was as the result of successful appeals, or something else outside the school’s control, in which case the school will simply point out “We had no choice in the matter”. Unless there’s an obvious flaw in the authority’s case for oversubscription, it’s usually best to come across as a very reasonable parent, accepting that the authority does have a case, but countering with reasons why you need a place. See Section C2 b .

You could quite reasonably ask whether there’s any hard evidence of prejudice resulting from the extra numbers, especially if results appear not to have suffered. The school might wish to argue “Our results would have been even better but for the additional numbers!”

Results can be affected by a range of factors (whether or not there is ‘grade inflation’, whether or not one year is more able than another, whether or not there have been changes in the teaching staff or curriculum).

C9. Should an ‘Out of County’ application be treated the same as an ‘Out of Catchment’ one?

Yes (assuming that the catchment area doesn’t cross the county boundary).

The Greenwich Judgement of 1989 established that LA schools may not give priority to children simply because of the fact that they live in the authority’s administrative area. (This does not mean that admission authorities cannot use certain oversubscription criteria, such as the catchment area rule which is permitted under the Rotherham judgement of 1997.)

So, there’s a distinction between “Who can apply?” (the answer is anyone. There must be no discrimination), and “What happens if the school is full?” (Preference can be given to children in the catchment area, but not to children in the rest of the LA’s administrative area.)

C10. Common mistakes

When you appeal, you are effectively appealing for a school, rather than against one. It is better to make positive points about the school you want than to spend time criticising the school you don’t want!

Another common mistake when appealing for a particular grammar school (having already qualified at the 11+), is to focus on the need for a grammar school place rather than on this particular grammar school.

It’s amazing how often the answer to the question “Have you ever visited the school?” is “No”. (Some parents reply hesitantly “Well, I’ve seen the school ……” – The next question, of course, is “Do you mean you’ve driven past it?”) Appeal panels tend not to like it when parents haven’t even taken the trouble to visit the school (assuming that they could have done so). See also C21. How not to win an oversubscription appeal!

C11. My child cannot bear to be parted from friends.

I do understand how upsetting it can be to be separated from friends (initially at least). The problem is appeal panels hear this all the time – “His/her best friend is going there,” or “His/her friends are all going there”, and it ceases to carry much weight, especially when it’s usually difficult for a panel to establish the facts. If there’s evidence that the support of friends is needed for some particularly good reason, and there’s some hard evidence, that’s another matter.

You could try asking the class teacher to comment in a letter on the friendship issue – even if there is no overwhelmingly strong reason, it would help to have the facts confirmed, and might just help tip the balance.

C12. How long a journey is reasonable?

54. Best practice suggests that the maximum each way length of journey for a child of primary school age might be considered to be 45 minutes; whilst a child of secondary school age might be expected to travel up to 75 minutes each way Similarly, a child’s special educational needs and/or disability might be such that it implies a shorter maximum journey time. [DFES “Home to School Travel and Transport Guidance” 1997]

This is not a statutory requirement, but it is nevertheless a useful indicator of what might be considered reasonable. Much depends on local circumstances, however. For example, conditions in rural and areas are likely to be different.

C13. What is meant by ‘Net Capacity’ in the school’s case? Can I argue that there has been some additional building?

The number of pupils admitted to a school is based on the net capacity of the school. This is a physical measurement of the facilities that are available. From the net capacity, which equates to the total number of pupils that it is deemed the school can hold, the published admission number (‘PAN’) is derived for the number of pupils for each year group (although the precise admission number can be modified by agreement, if there is a good reason). So the probability is that if there has been a very recent new build, then it may not have been included within the net capacity figure.

By all means ask questions at an appeal hearing about any new buildings, but do not base your case on generalised, non-specific assertions (“There have been some new buildings, so it follows that there must be extra capacity”). If you really want to go down this road, you need to have established the hard facts. What are the buildings for, and are they replacements or additions? (The school prospectus or web site might shed some light).

If they are classrooms or science labs, then this might really help your case if the buildings are so recent that the PAN has not been updated. However, if they are ICT suites or a swimming pool or drama studio etc., then they do not count as much in the net capacity calculation. And, if they are simply replacement buildings of the same size, then they do not count at all!

C14. If school says it cannot fit more than 28 pupils in class, not enough desks and chairs, four form entry = 112 pupils, but their own info says that in Y8 there are 118 pupils (2 groups 29, 2 groups 30) does this not contradict their argument, i.e. they must have enough desks and chairs for them all?

It’s not the number of desks that indicates the number of pupils, but the net capacity assessment. There has to be an entitlement to a certain amount of free space in a room (not least for the teacher to be able to move round, and for any equipment in use).

Based on the size and type of room, the net capacity shows how many pupils might reasonably be accommodated.

I assume the figures you mention are the result of successful appeals. In this situation, the school has no choice but to cope as best it can and to squeeze in some extra desks if it can.

If you’d like to get into the finer points of net capacity, you can find out all about it at the Department for Education website – but it’s not exactly light reading!

Note that the allocation of basic workplaces to spaces indicates a potential teaching space, based purely on the size and type. It is not necessarily a reflection of current use nor is it expected that all basic workspaces should be used for teaching.

Sometimes at appeals you will hear the figure 60 sq.m. used for a standard secondary school classroom. This comes from Building Bulletin 98, “Briefing Framework for Secondary School Projects”. It suits admission authorities to quote the figures in Building Bulletin 98, but these relate to new building projects.

C15. Why does the school case include the number of children with special needs?

The school case may be considered stronger if there is an above average number of children with special needs, especially if they are in the year group being appealed for. Wheelchairs, teaching assistants, for example, would affect the amount of space available.

Special educational needs are broadly defined as any child needing extra help in a range of areas including schoolwork, socialising or behaviour. A school usually has to agree formally that a child has special needs.

In January 2007, 229,100 (2.8 percent) pupils across all schools in England had special educational needs statements, a slight fall compared with 2006. A statement is written if the child is assessed by the local authority as needing help beyond the capabilities of the school, and is reviewed annually.

There were more than 1.3 million pupils with special needs who did not have official statements in 2007, representing 16.4 percent of pupils across all schools, the figures showed. This is an increase from 15.7 percent a year earlier.

There are more special needs pupils without statements in primary schools (17.7 percent) than secondary schools (16.2 percent).

C16. If the parental application was not fraudulent, can a LA withdraw a place it has offered in error?

The law is not entirely clear here, but the length of time that passes before the place is withdrawn seems to be significant.

The following precedents may be of interest (but come without guarantees!):

R v Beatrix Potter School (1997)

The head offered a place in error, and the LA withdrew it the same day. Parents appealed to the High Court on grounds of ‘legitimate expectation’ of a place. High Court refused the appeal (and the place) as the offer was withdrawn the same day.

Ombudsman complaint 99/C/1876

Head offered five places. LEA withdrew them after three days.
Ombudsman decided in this case the delay was too long, and amounted to maladminstration. Places confirmed.

Once a child has started at a school, the Admissions Code says:

1.44 A school place must not be withdrawn once a child has started at the school, except where that place was fraudulently obtained.

C17. Waiting lists

Admission authorities are responsible for the Waiting List, whereas the appeal process is completely independent of the admission authority.

It’s always a good idea to pursue both avenues – ask to go on the waiting list and appeal at the same time.

Although the appeal process is entirely separate, it can have an impact on the Waiting List. For example, if there are 5 successful appeals, then 6 children would have to leave before a place can become available from the Waiting List.

An appeal panel must not be told anything about where a child is on a Waiting List. If by chance they are told, then they cannot consider that information when taking their decision. The Code clearly states:

“When hearing appeals, panels must not take account of where the admission authority has placed a child on the waiting list.”

C18. Letter of appeal (oversubscription)

a) Example of a simple letter of appeal

Most appellants write far too much!

Just state your case briefly – you can go into more detail at the hearing.

Dear Members of the Panel,

I wish to appeal to you on the following grounds:

* We live in the catchment area of the school.

* Educational reasons. My son’s ability in Mathematics makes him very well-suited to a school specialising in this area of the curriculum. (See evidence attached as Appendix 1)

* Social reasons. My son’s friends, including his best friend, will all be going to this school. He has been bullied by boys who will be attending the allocated school. (Evidence to follow).

Thank you for taking the time to consider my appeal. I look forward to meeting you, and answering any questions you may have.

Yours sincerely

Most appeal forms have space for at least half-a-dozen lines where you can state your reasons for appeal. Unless the case is a complicated one (or your handwriting is terrible!), I suggest using that space rather than producing a separate letter. It encourages brevity – and it helps the panel if you are concise.

The above case could just as easily appear as follows:

  • catchment school
  • Mathematics specialism (See Appendix 1)
  • Bullying (Evidence to follow).

b) The balance (in terms of length and detail) between the written submission and the presentation at the hearing

“I’ve been reading various threads and have come across advice that appellants should submit minimal information (bullet points) in writing prior to the hearing & then go into more detail at the hearing. Can I do it the other way round? – I’m much more confident and focused when writing a letter than I expect to be when in front of an appeal panel!”

There’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t do it the other way round – your written case in full, and a few words at the hearing summarising the main points (you could even say “Would you be willing to take my case as read? If so, I’m happy to answer any questions”).

This approach ought to be adopted if it is known that appeals are to be scheduled at 15 minute intervals (unusual and unreasonable, but there are a few admission authorities where this happens).

Even so, unless the case is extremely complex, I see no reason why it can’t be set out in full on a single sheet of A4 (plus supporting evidence). Bullet points are an aid to clarity and conciseness!

Under normal circumstances I also see no reason for either a lengthy submission or a lengthy presentation. What really matters is the evidence, not what you write or say.

C19. Logistical reasons

This argument is often put forward at an oversubscription appeal for needing a place at a particular school, but all too often it is not substantiated.

Explain exactly what the logistical problem is, and whether public transport is a factor. Provide some evidence:

* Draw up a schedule, with times and places, showing exactly what you would have to do to get the children to school and fit in any other commitments you have.

* Evidence of availability of public transport (if relevant)

* If your partner cannot help (let’s assume for the purpose of this example that it’s the husband!), provide some evidence. If he commutes, draw up his daily schedule, including time of departure from home, route taken, place of employment, arrival time. If applicable, draw up a week-by-week record of his business trips, so that the panel can see how often he is away from home, and/or get a letter from his employer confirming that he is expected to travel frequently on business.

* Are there really no friends, relatives, parents of children at the same school, who could assist?

Note: Include the evidence as numbered appendices at the back of your submission, with the most important items first.

C20. Chances of success at appeal

Assuming that the panel is satisfied the admission authority has a case, then every oversubscription appeal must go on to consider:

* The admission arrangements, and whether they have been correctly applied.

* Whether the parental reasons for wanting a place outweigh the prejudice to the school.

a. The first of these should be a purely objective exercise: was a mistake made in the admission arrangements as a result of which the child was deprived of a place to which s/he would otherwise have been entitled?

b. The second is a much more subjective judgement!

We give advice in C2 about the sort of arguments you might put forward at appeal, but it is important to understand that there are a number of ‘variables’ that are completely outside of your control:

* How strong a case the admission authority puts forward to resist further admissions.
* (Probably) how strong a case any other appellants may have.
* How strict the appeal panel is in exercising its judgement.

With regard to the last point, there are wide variations in different parts of the country, and own-admission authority schools tend to have stricter panels.
There is a link in the Q&As, A6b, that takes you to the last available DfE statistics.

There was a newspaper article about the widely different success rates in different areas here
(It’s out of date, and refers to all schools rather than just grammar schools, but it gives an idea of the huge variations that can occur.)

C21. How not to win an oversubscription appeal!

The wrong way to approach appeals is to proclaim you have a right to a place at the school, to be highly critical of the admission authority, and to try too hard to pick holes in the school case. (If there’s anything seriously wrong with the school case, the panel are usually quite capable of spotting it without anyone else’s assistance!)

At an oversubscription appeal, it’s usually not a good idea to:

a) talk at length at stage 1 (See the advice earlier on in C1b)

b) provide school reports and references for no obvious reason (general academic ability isn’t likely to be taken into account)

c) talk vaguely about the wonderful standards at the school (flattery?)

d) say you haven’t yet visited the school (not interested?)

e) make negative points about the school allocated (rather than positive reasons for the school being appealed for)

f) focus on the need for a grammar school place (rather than on the particular school being appealed for)

g) mention all the friends there (without explaining why this really will make a difference)

h) show pictures of the child (emotional blackmail?)

i) produce a letter to the panel from the child (dictated, or at least checked, by parents?)

j) tell the panel how much the school will benefit from having the child as a pupil (“This is a clever, responsible, hardworking pupil with numerous extra-curricular interests”!)

k) tell the panel how much the school will benefit from having this particular set of parents!!! (“We’ve been very active on the primary school PTA, and would hope to continue that level of commitment. We could raise a lot of money for you …..” (bribery?)

l) rant and rage at ‘the system’ as if the panel and presenting officer are to blame (they’re not!)

m) claim an interest in the school’s specialism (without any hard evidence for that interest)

n) talk at great length (boring the panel to death?)

See: C24. How to win an oversubscription appeal?

C22. Late oversubscription appeals

The conventional wisdom is that it’s better to be part of the main batch of appeals, so that your case can be heard when any additional places are first being considered by the panel. (If some of these appeals are successful, the number in the year group will be higher, and the prejudice to the school will be greater, by the time any late appeals are heard).

There is a less well-known view among some ‘insiders’ that it can sometimes be better to have a later appeal on your own. Although you may be disadvantaged by the fact that the number on roll could now be above PAN, you might benefit if you have an ‘average’ case that is not being overshadowed by other cases with really compelling medical/social reasons. Unfortunately this is less likely to work if it turns out to be the same panel hearing the appeals again! Authorities may well try to convene the same or a similar panel, but it depends of course on who is available at the time.

C23. I want to present very different cases for two separate appeals. Will the panel know about my other appeal?

Probably not, although it’s just possible someone could be serving on both panels, and could be scheduled for both these appeals. Dejavu faced this situation, but still managed to win both her appeals. She writes about her experience in the feedback section. Follow the link contained within this post

Tigger2 has commented:

“I have met the same panellist at three different appeals and whilst she recognised me I don’t think that we were at a disadvantage and this lady asked different questions pertinent to each appeal. We were asked by another panellist at one hearing if we were appealing to other schools and she jumped in to say that she felt that it was irrelevant and inappropriate.”

Some panels do ask about other appeals. I am not comfortable about that, but it depends whether the question can be justified. For example, if the panel is seeking to establish whether the current appeal is your ‘last hope’, it could be well-intentioned.

C24. How to win an oversubscription appeal?

In answer to a question on the forum, if I were on the panel I would probably be impressed if “you and your son have visited the school, if it is clear why this particular school would meet his needs better than any other, if he is desperate to go there and there is a genuine basis for his enthusiasm.”

“If places have been allocated in rank order of score, and you wish to present a case that your son was expected to score more highly than he did, I would have to be satisfied that he really is a very high achiever.”

“….above lies probably the best and most succinct guide to appeals of this type that you are ever likely to find. Can this go into the Q&As somewhere?” [Alex]

However, the well-intentioned advice I have suggested above may or may not match your individual circumstances and evidence. It is simply not possible to create an ‘ideal case’ out of thin air!

As Alex has wisely pointed out on the forum, there is no ‘magic formula’.

Moreover, even if you do have an ideal case, there could still be ‘variables’ affecting the panel’s decision that are completely outside of your control. See: C20. Chances of success at appeal

C25. Human Rights Act 1998

The Human Rights Act 1998 confers a right of access to education. This right does not extend to securing a place at a particular school. Admission authorities, however, do need to consider parents’ reasons for expressing a preference when they make decisions about the allocation of school places, to take account of the rights of parents under the Act, though this may not necessarily result in the allocation of a place. These might include, for example, the parents’ rights to ensure that their child’s education conforms to their own religious or philosophical convictions (so far as is compatible with the provision of efficient instruction and the avoidance of unreasonable public expenditure).

C26. “The case papers state the number of pupils in the year group, but there’s no information as to how many classes there are and how many children in each class. Am I entitled to ask for this information?”

Absolutely.

The previous Appeals Code stated: 1.31 …….. Admission authorities must give appellants appropriate guidance and information before the hearing to enable them to prepare their case for appeal ….. and, having regard to the Data Protection Act 1998 and Freedom of Information Act 2000, must respond to any reasonable requests for information about the school or the admissions process that the appellant may think they need to help them with this preparation …..

The new Appeals Code is more concise: 2.8 Admission authorities must comply with reasonable requests from parents for information which they need to help them prepare their case for appeal.

I suggest the first step could be a polite request to whoever deals with admissions at the school. For example:

“In order to help prepare for an appeal, I should be grateful if you would let me know the number of classes planned for the new year X in September, and the expected number of pupils in each class, based on the latest available information.”

Assuming the appeal is for next year, it’s worth using the phrase “expected number based on the latest available information” in case they are aware that someone is withdrawing.

They ought to be helpful. If not, the next step would be to quote para. 2.8 of the Appeals Code, and also to point out that this information could be formally requested under the Freedom of Information Act (or the Data Protection Act if you are requesting personal information such as your child’s 11+ test scores).

If you’re interested in class sizes, it’s a good idea to ask as well for the current number on roll for each year group (from year 7 to year 11). You will then be able to see whether they’ve previously exceeded the admission number.

Note: If the information you require is held by the LA rather than by the school, then it is possible that any written request for information might automatically be treated as a formal request under the Freedom of Information Act.

C27. “We have a school report from abroad, but it’s in Spanish. Can we still submit it as evidence?”

I’m doubtful that a report in a foreign language – without an independent translation – is going to carry much weight. I would advise you to have it properly translated, and to submit the certified translation along with the original.

There’s a similar question in section B – see Marylou’s answer here .

C28. Appealing for a child with a statement of special educational needs.

Such appeals will usually be heard by the First-Tier Tribunal (Special Educational Needs and Disability ), not by a school admission appeal panel.

Parents should consult with their LA or with their local Parent Partnership Service about the appeal route for a child with a statement of special educational needs.

C29. In my initial appeal letter do I include reasons why I think the admission of another child will not prejudice the school?

No – you should just focus on your own case.

At the hearing, you will have an opportunity to ask questions about the school case if you wish to do so.

Further information about stage one can be found here

C30. I know that I shall have an opportunity to ask questions about the school case, but am I allowed to comment on it? If so, would this be at stage one or stage two?

All matters to do with the school case should be dealt with at stage one.

The order of business will almost certainly state “Questions”. Lengthy statements are unlikely to be welcome and are best avoided!

However, you could easily make a brief comment, followed by “Would you agree?” or “Is that a fair point?”.

C31. Are all appeals, whether non qualification or oversubscription, given the same ‘chance’ – or do those appealing only against oversubsciption have an edge?

All appeals should receive equal consideration.

Clearly, if non-qualification is an issue, there’s an extra hurdle to overcome – but that doesn’t mean the starting point is to prioritise those who are qualified.

Indeed, someone with a strong case for qualification and strong reasons for wanting a place should stand a better chance than someone whose child has qualified but whose reasons for wanting a place are not so strong.

C32. How to sum up.

In the summing up, neither party should introduce any new evidence or add significant new points. You need only highlight very briefly the important issues.

As we often point out, the evidence should speak for itself, and although everyone is naturally concerned about what to say at the hearing, it is not nearly as important as people think. My advice is to be as brief as possible – don’t try the panel’s patience by inflicting on them a lengthy, repetitive summing up!

A minute or two is all it should take (I’m afraid too many appellants see this as yet another opportunity to bore the panel to death, reminding them of the minutest details about their case!). You do not need to sum up at all if you don’t want to, and rest assured that not repeating your main points isn’t going to make the slightest difference! However, I would recommend having the last word as follows:

Example of a simple summing up (oversubscription only)

(1) We’ll be quite brief. (2) Thank you very much indeed for being so generous with your time [if applicable], and for having given us the opportunity to present our case. (3) [Our child] is desperately keen to join the school. (4) We do understand the school’s reservations about the possible impact of an extra pupil, (5) but we respectfully ask you to weigh up the reasons we have put forward, and to consider allowing this appeal on the basis that the prejudice to [our child] of not being admitted would outweigh any prejudice to the school. Thank you.

(Point 1 – muted sighs of relief from the panel! Point 2 is just good manners, point 3 might elicit a bit of sympathy, point 4 only goes to shows how reasonable you are, and point 5 refers to the substance of your case.)

The panel really don’t need reminding about the individual arguments you’ve put forward, so what’s the purpose of summing up? My feeling is that, if you can win the sympathy of the panel by conveying how really keen your child is for a place at the school, and impress them by how reasonable you are, they might just start looking a bit harder for reasons to allow the appeal!

It may only work when the decision is finely balanced, and you will probably need some luck on your side too ……

C33. What is meant by ranking (of 11+ scores)?

The admission rules for every school must be published, so that it is absolutely clear how places are to be allocated.

If there are too many children who are eligible for a school, then oversubscription criteria have to be used to determine who gets a place.

Ranking is an oversubscription criterion used for some grammar schools. Children are ranked according to their 11+ score, and places are allocated to those who have scored highest.

Ranking can be used in combination with other criteria such as living in the catchment area, distance from the school, etc. However, if ranking is used, the Admissions Code specifically forbids giving priority to siblings of current or former pupils.

C34. School specialisms

If putting forward an educational argument that your child has an aptitude for one of the school’s specialisms, and this is one of the reasons for seeking a place, you should be aware that there is no longer any funding for specialisms, and someone might point this out to you at the hearing.

Check beforehand to see whether the school is still ‘advertising’ its specialism, either on its website or in the prospectus. You’ll be in an stronger position if so.

You could also argue that the resources and expertise that the school has built up over the years are not going to disappear overnight!

C35. Ofsted report. The allocated school is currently in special measures. Would it be useful to add this as one of the arguments for appeal?

Normally the appeal should focus on positive reasons for wanting the place at the school being appealed for, rather than negative points about the allocated school.

Every argument ought to be evidenced – but if it’s not a significant point for an appeal, they won’t thank you for sending in an Ofsted report that then has to be photocopied, issued to everyone, and studied by the panel in advance.

What could be useful is if the argument moves away from ‘the general’ and becomes much more specific to the child. For example, if (a) the teaching of English has been criticised in the report, and your child’s previous sound progress in English can clearly be shown to have been affected during the relevant period, and if (b) the English department at the school being appealed for is a good one that your child could benefit from, then there is a case to be made.

Failing some such specific evidence, at best I think it merits only a very brief mention. If you want to raise it, my advice would be to keep it low key, not include it in your written submission, just read out a couple of the main points from the report at the hearing, and leave a copy of the report with the clerk “for the record”.

C36. Are there any arguments that can be used to support a preference for single-sex schooling?

“Just wondering how you do get the single-sex point across effectively as that is one of the main things my daughter is most upset about. She really wanted to attend an all girls school and that is only available at grammar.”

If you can’t think of an obvious reason (other than she wants to go there), it’ll be tricky! It’s easy to assert a vague preference for single-sex schools – much harder to put forward a convincing argument.

Here are a few cases:

1. A girl has been severely bullied by some boys at the primary school. The school confirms that this is a vulnerable child needing the support of friends – girls – who are all expected to be going to single-sex schools. (This ought to be quite a strong case if there is supporting evidence.)

2. A muslim family have a very strong preference for a single-sex school for deeply held religious and cultural reasons. They have a letter from their imam confirming this. (In practice most muslim girls attend mixed schools, if only because most schools are co-educational – but it’s an argument that an appeal panel has a duty to consider.)

3. A family want their daughter to go to a single-sex school for educational reasons. She is particularly strong at maths & science, and the family believe there is some evidence to suggest that girls do better at these subjects in a single-sex environment, whereas in a co-ed school they might be viewed stereotypically as “boys’ subjects”. (The problem with this argument is that it’s used rather too often at appeals – but it might work if the evidence for maths/science is exceptionally strong.)

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