Being offered a place at a school you don’t like can be heartbreaking.
It is hard enough parting with your four-year-old at the school gates for the first time – but the thought of doing so at a school you don’t want your child to attend is extremely distressing. If you have been offered a reception place you are not happy with, what can you do?
It goes against your instincts but you shouldn’t turn down the place you have been offered. If you do, you will be taken out of the system and the local authority will have no obligation to you. Once you’ve accepted your place, then you can plough all your efforts into getting on waiting lists for other schools or even appealing. You can reject the school you’ve accepted at a later stage if you get another place you are happier with. Ask to go on the waiting lists for all other schools that you would prefer – some local authorities may do this automatically but you ought to check. You are then in the running if a place becomes available further down the line. All these options are tightly scheduled so be sure to check deadlines and submit acceptances, appeals and waiting list request promptly.
While you’re planning your course of action, however enraged you are at the school you’ve been offered, try not to convey your distress to your child. The worst-case scenario is that your child may end up going to this school, and it can only get them off to a bad start if they hear their parents have reservations about them going there. Try to talk positively about the school in front of your child even if it’s a bit of an act.
Can I appeal the decision?
Appealing the decision is an option but there are quite limited grounds to appeal. With reception places, unlike at secondary level, appeals can only occasionally be won on grounds other than technical, procedural grounds. In 2021, only about 10% of appeals which came before the appeals panel were successful.
To win an infant class appeal in the normal admissions round you need to show that an error was made in implementing the school’s admission arrangements and that a place ought to have been offered; or that the admission authority’s decision to refuse a place was not one which a reasonable admissions authority would have made in the same circumstances. Unfortunately, what seems ‘unreasonable’ to you and your family is often not what an appeals panel would understand by the term. It needs to be a very compelling reason – eg a safeguarding issue or family tragedy – for the panel to decide to over-ride the statutory requirement that Reception classes do not go over 30.
Revisit the offer you've received
If you come to the conclusion that appealing is unlikely to work and so far nothing has been forthcoming from the waiting lists you’ve got on, it may be time to reassess the school you’ve been given. Plan a visit the school you’ve been offered to see if that will trigger a change in your feelings. There are always reports and grades which can be found online and perhaps things have changed since you last looked. Schools can have an unfair reputation based on an out-of-date Ofsted report or local gossip. There may have been a change of head who has brought about significant change. In reality, the school, although not your first choice, may do a perfectly good job.
If you are really not happy with the school you have been offered, look at others in the area. Contact the schools themselves or your local authority to find out where there are any remaining places, and see whether you might like to apply to those schools instead. An extreme course of action is to move to a different area – one with good schools that aren’t oversubscribed (tricky) – or pay for your child to attend private school. Both these options are really only open to those with a lot of spare money.
Parents can make all the difference
We think it’s worth remembering that especially in the early years of school, a parent’s input will go a long way to cover for any deficiencies in the school. Reading with your child every night, keeping them supplied with books, taking them to stimulating places (if possible), chatting over the dinner table, encouraging their curiosity will all do a great deal to promote your child’s learning.
Get involved with the school in whatever way you can, even if it wasn’t your first choice school. Go in to help with reading or messy activities, help the PTA with fundraising, volunteer to accompany school trips, consider becoming a governor – work from the inside to improve it, and as you get to know more about it, you might find it actually has a lot of strengths you weren’t aware of.
The Good Schools Guide is the UK’s leading school guide, helping parents with every aspect of choosing the best education for their children.