My child didn't get into our choice of school – what now?

A family with a deaf son sit on sofas, chatting.

If you're unhappy with the school placement that your child has been given, you have the right to appeal.

The process is different depending on:

a) whether you live in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland

b) and whether your child has a statement of special educational needs (SEN), an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan, or a coordinated support plan (CSP).

Click on the statement that best applies to you for more information.

England: My child doesn’t have a statement or an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan

How to appeal

You’ll find details of how to appeal in the local authority’s admission letter outlining your offer. The letter will also give you a deadline to appeal by. You can only make one appeal for each school that doesn’t offer you a place. If more than one school declines to admit your child, you can make separate appeals.

Timescales for appealing

You must be given 20 school days to send in your written appeal. In some areas you may be able to submit your appeal online.

The appeal hearing

The appeal must be heard within 40 school days. You should receive 10 school days’ notice of when the hearing will be. The appeal will be heard by a panel of three people. The local authority will appoint people to the panel. They must ensure that these people are independent of the local authority and provide them with training. The panel should include ‘lay people’ (people who are not involved in managing schools) and, separately, people with ‘experience in education’.

When to expect a decision

The panel should let you know their decision in writing within five school days of the hearing.

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England: My child has a statement or an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan

How to appeal

If your child has a statement or an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan you need to appeal through the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SENDIST) England. Section I of the EHC plans sets out the ‘placement’ or which school your child is expected to attend.

Appealing against other sections of the plan

If you’re appealing against other sections of the plan in addition to the placement, you’ll need a mediation certificate before you can register your appeal. This is a certificate that says that you considered or underwent mediation.

It’s usually a good idea not to appeal just against section I, because this won’t allow you to discuss your child’s needs and the provision they need: the discussion will only be about whether the schools in question can make the provision,  which is already set out in section F (special educational provision).

For more information on appealing against sections of statements and EHC plans read our factsheet How to Appeal to the Tribunal Against a Decision About Your Child’s Special Educational Needs (England).

Timescales for appealing

You must appeal within two months of the date on the letter from the local authority giving you their decision or one month from the date on the mediation certificate, whichever is later. You don’t need a certificate if you are appealing only against placements (section I).

You must contact a mediation adviser before registering an appeal about the contents of section B (special educational needs) and/or F (special educational provision). See How to Appeal to the Tribunal Against a Decision About Your Child’s Special Educational Needs (England).

The appeal hearing

The local authority has 30 days to respond to the appeal after SENDIST has registered it. You’ll be informed of the date and time of the hearing at least 10 days before it’s due.

When to expect a decision

You should receive the decision within 15 days of the hearing and the local authority has two weeks from the decision date to make the changes to school placement.

England: Useful links

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Wales: My child doesn’t have a statement

How to appeal

The placement letter will give you details of the appeals procedure. The appeal will then be referred to the council’s legal department who will arrange for the appeal to be heard by the independent appeal panel. The local authority website should also have information about school admissions and how to appeal.

Timescales for appealing

Appeals must be submitted in writing within 28 calendar days of you being notified of the decision not to admit your child to your chosen school.

What happens at the appeal?

Your appeal will normally be heard in private, but, if there are a lot of appeals for one school the first stage of the appeal may be done as a group and have other parents present. The presenting officer will explain why the admission authority turned down your/the application(s) You’ll then have an opportunity to question the admission authority’s reasons for refusal. At this stage, if the panel decides that there was no need to refuse a place, the hearing will end and you’ll be informed that the appeal has been successful.

If the panel decides that there were reasons for refusal, then a second stage will follow. This will be an individual (private) appeal. You’ll have the chance to explain why your child should be provided with a place at the school even though it is full. The admission authority will have an opportunity to question your reasons.
 
The admission authority will then sum up the case You will also have an opportunity to sum up your case.

The panel will listen to all sides of the case and may ask questions at any time if they need clarification or more information to reach a decision.

When to expect a decision

You should be sent written notification of the panel’s decision within five working days.

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Wales: My child has a statement

How to appeal

If your child has a statement you need to appeal through the Special Educational Needs Tribunal for Wales (SENTW).

If you’re appealing because you want a different school to the one named in part 4 of the statement, you probably need to appeal against parts 2 (saying what your child’s special educational needs are) and 3 (saying what support your child should receive) as well.

If you disagree with the particular school, or the type of school, named in part 4 of the statement, you will need to give the name of another school, or specify the type of school you want your child to go to. You will also need to say why you think that school is appropriate for your child.

Timescales for appealing

You must appeal within two months of the date on the letter from the local authority giving you their decision. SENTW will register your appeal within 10 working days of receiving it. They’ll tell you when they have registered your appeal and inform you of the date your appeal will be heard.

The appeal hearing

The local authority has 30 days to respond to the appeal after SENTW has registered it. You’ll be informed of the date and time of the hearing at least 10 days before it’s due.

When to expect a decision

You’ll receive the decision within 15 days of the hearing and the local authority has two weeks from the decision date to make the changes to school placement.

You might like to know about... Appealing to the Special Educational Needs Tribunal in Wales.

Wales: Useful links

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Scotland: My child doesn’t have a coordinated support plan (CSP) and I want my child to be placed in a mainstream school

Parents have a right to make a ‘placing request’ on behalf of their child. A placing request is any written request to place a child at a specified school. Placing requests can be made to any school in any local authority. You should make the request by 15 March of the year before your child is due to start school.

Where a placing request is made, the local authority must grant the request, unless one or more grounds for refusal apply. If you haven’t heard from the local authority by the 30 April (or within two months if you applied after the 15 March), this means that the local authority has turned down your request.

If a placing request is refused, you have a right to appeal within 28 days from the date of the decision letter (which must give information on the right to appeal). The appeal is heard by an education appeal committee of up to seven people. These may be councillors or local people such as teachers and parents. They cannot be people who have any connection to the schools that you and the local authority have chosen.

Following the hearing, the committee must write to you with their decision within 14 days. If you aren’t happy with the committee’s decision, you then have the right to appeal to the Sheriff. You must do this within 28 days. 

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Scotland: My child has a coordinated support plan (CSP) and/or I want my child to be placed in a school with specialist provision

Parents have a right to make a ‘placing request’ on behalf of their child. A placing request is any written request to place a child at a specified school. Placing requests can be made to any school in any local authority. You should make the request by 15 March of the year before your child is due to start school.

Where a placing request is made, the local authority must grant the request, unless one or more grounds for refusal apply. If you have not heard from the local authority by the 30 April (or within two months if you applied after the 15 March), this means that the local authority has turned down your request.

If the placing request is turned down, you should appeal to the Additional Support Needs Tribunal (and not an education appeals committee).

You have two months from the date of the decision letter (which must give information on the right to appeal).

A Tribunal (panel of three people) will hear the appeal. The Convener, who has a legal qualification, will chair the hearing. The Members have knowledge and experience of children or young people with additional support needs.

Both parties (you and the local authority) can ask for witnesses to attend. It is possible for a witness to give written evidence or to speak to the Tribunal by telephone conference call if they are unable to attend in person.

The Convener will normally hold a telephone conference call prior to the hearing date to discuss how the hearing will proceed, confirm what witnesses are to be called and to agree a running order. The Tribunal would always welcome your child attending or could hear your child’s views in writing, by video or in pictures.

It's difficult to say how long a hearing will last. Many last one day but a placing request could last up to three days if it is complex and several witnesses are called.

Once the hearing is over, the Tribunal will write to you and the local authority with their decision. They usually do this within around ten working days. The Tribunal’s decision is final although you can appeal to the Court of Session if you believe that the decision is wrong on a point of law. You’ll receive information about appealing to the Court of Session when you get the tribunal’s decision. 

You might like to know about... Making a reference to the Additional Support Needs Tribunal.

Scotland: Useful links

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Northern Ireland: My child doesn’t have a statement

All schools have admissions criteria which they follow when allocating places if they are oversubscribed (i.e. if there are more applicants than available places). The criteria are set by each school’s board of governors. The Education Authority (EA) publishes details of admissions criteria on its website, along with the number of applications received for the previous three years.

If your child isn’t allocated a place at your chosen school you have the right to appeal to an independent appeal panel. For post-primary admissions decisions you can also appeal to an independent Exceptional Circumstances Body. You will receive a letter from the EA that explains how to appeal and the date by which you must do this.

Timescales for lodging an appeal

The notification of placement/non-placement letter will give you a date which you must appeal by. You should give notice of your intention to appeal by submitting a letter outlining the criteria that were not applied correctly. You will be sent an appeals form within five days to complete. You’ll be given five days’ notice of the date and time of the hearing.

The appeal hearing

Primary and nursery tribunals normally take place between May and June and post-primary between July and August.

When to expect a decision

The tribunal makes its decision at the end of the hearing and this will be given in writing to you and to the school as soon as possible. If the independent appeal panel decides in favour of your child the school must make arrangements to admit your child in September.

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Northern Ireland: My child has a statement

How to appeal

If your child has a statement of special educational needs you need to appeal through the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SENDIST) Northern Ireland. If you’re appealing because you want a different school to the one named in part 4 of the statement, you probably need to appeal against parts 2 (saying what your child’s special educational needs are) and 3 (saying what support your child should receive) as well.

If you disagree with the particular school, or the type of school, named in part 4 of the statement, you’ll need to give the name of another school, or specify the type of school you want your child to go to. You’ll also need to say why you think that school is appropriate for your child.

Timescales for lodging an appeal

You must appeal within two months of the date on the letter from the EA giving you their decision. SEND will register your appeal within 10 working days of receiving it. They will tell you when they’ve registered your appeal and inform you of the date your appeal will be heard.

The appeal hearing

The EA has 30 days to respond to the appeal after SENDIST has registered it. You’ll be informed of the date and time of the hearing at least 10 days before it’s due.

When to expect a decision

You’ll receive the decision within 15 days of the hearing and the EA has two weeks from the decision date to make the changes to school placement.

You might like to know about... Appealing to the SEN and Disability Tribunal in Northern Ireland about the Contents of Your Child's Statement.

Northern Ireland: Useful links

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Never give up: read our family story about appealing a school placement

A family with twin deaf boys. (credit: NDCS)

Helen fought for years to get a school that could support the needs of her son Nathan, 13, who is profoundly deaf. With the National Deaf Children’s Society right behind her, now he’s making real progress. 

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