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My child didn’t get into our choice of school in Northern Ireland – what now?

If you’re not happy with the school placement your child has been given, you have the right to appeal – it doesn’t matter if they have a statement of special educational needs (SEN) or not, but how you go about appealing is different.

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.

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.

Family Support NI provides details of a wide range of services provided by statutory, voluntary and community organisations to support families.

Special Educational Needs Advice Centre (Senac) provides advice, information and advocacy for parents of children with special educational needs in Northern Ireland.

The Children’s Law Centre provides a free legal advice service on children’s rights, including children with SEN and/or disabilities.