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20 Education

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1. Introduction

2. What choice of school do I have for my child?

Your child may not be given a place at the school you prefer, but you are allowed to say which one you'd like them to attend. If you are applying at the normal time that a child starts school, your local education authority (LEA) may limit the number of schools you can apply to.  You apply to most schools through your LEA even if the school is in a different area.

If you are applying at a time other than when a child starts school (for example, because you have just moved into the area), you can generally apply to as many schools as you like. In these cases you might be able to apply directly to the school.  You should apply in writing to make sure your application is dealt with properly. Most children get a place at their parents' first choice of school, though this is not the case in some areas.

The organisation that decides who gets a place is called the 'admission authority'. For community and voluntary-controlled schools, the admission authority is the LEA. For all other schools, it is the school's governing body.

When can my child be refused a place?
An admission authority can refuse your child a place at school if:

  • the school is full; in the case of an infant or primary school, giving your child a place would take the school beyond the legal limit for infant class size (which is 30 pupils to each qualified teacher);
  • the school is a 'selective school' and your child does not meet its standards;
  • the Secretary of State for Education or the National Assembly for Wales has allowed two or more schools to have 'co- ordinated admission arrangements' (where they share places); or
  • your child has been permanently excluded from two or more schools, the last time being less than two years ago.

If a school is classified as having serious problems and already has many children with difficult behaviour, it may refuse a child with similar difficulties. But it may do this only if you are applying for a place outside the usual time for joining the school.

If more children apply than there are places at a school, the school will use guidelines known as 'admission oversubscription criteria' to decide who to offer a place to. These criteria should be objective (based on facts), clear and fair. They often include how far the child lives from the school and whether they have a brother or sister there. The criteria must be set out in a printed document that you can see - usually the LEA guide or prospectus.

Most schools have a waiting list. A child's place on the list should not depend on how long they have been waiting. The waiting list should be organised in line with the school's oversubscription criteria.

What can I do if my child has been turned down for a place?
If your child has been refused a place at a school, you can normally appeal to
an independent panel. You cannot appeal if your child is the subject of an 'education supervision order' (see 'Can I be prosecuted if my child does not go to school?') or if they were refused a place because they have already been excluded from two or more schools (see 'When can my child be refused a place?').

If your child has been refused a place at a school, the admission authority should write to you to:

  • explain why they were refused;
  • tell you how you can appeal against the decision; and
  • tell you how long you have to make your appeal. (The admission authority should not refuse to accept a late appeal, but it might not consider your appeal until after it has considered the appeals that were submitted at the right time.)

To make an appeal, you must write to the admission authority saying why you are appealing. You can also send in other information at any time, including at the appeal hearing itself (though the sooner you can send any information, the better). After sending in your appeal, you will be told when there will be a hearing where you can put your case. If the date of the hearing doesn't suit you, the admission authority should try to find another date that does. You can choose to have someone represent you at the hearing, although you will not be able to receive legal aid to cover the cost of this.

If you are applying to an infant or primary school and your child was turned down because the infant classes have reached the legal limit of 30 children to one teacher, your appeal will succeed only if the appeals panel decides that the admission authority:

  • did not follow the rules properly and should have offered your child a place; or
  • made an unreasonable decision in the strict legal sense. This means that the decision was not logical. It is very unusual for an appeal panel to make this judgement.

For all other appeals where the school is full, the hearing is in two stages. The first stage is the factual stage, where the appeals panel decide whether the published admission arrangements were correctly applied. The panel will go on to decide whether the school is full and whether admitting your child would 'prejudice' (harm) the education of other children in the school, or overstretch the school's resources.

If the panel decide that it would do so, they move to the second or 'balancing' stage of the appeal. Here they must look at your child's situation and balance this against the difficulties the school would face if they had to take another child.

If you are appealing because your child was turned down for not meeting the selection criteria, the panel will look at your reasons for saying why you think your child should be given a place.

The panel should always give you their reasons for their decision in writing.

What if my child was refused a place at a nursery?
Many children go to nursery before going to a main school. If you have a three-year-old, you should be offered a part-time nursery place for them if you want it. You have no legal right to appeal against a particular nursery's decision if it says it won't take your child.


3. When must my child go to school?

4. May I teach my child at home?

5. What will my child be taught at school?

6. What should I be told about my child and their progress?

7. What do I have to pay for at school?

8. What can I do if my child is being bullied?

9. What rights does the school have to discipline my child?

10. What happens if my child can't go to school?

11. What say do I have in how the school is run?

12. What if I am not happy about my child's school or education?

13. How can I get the right education for my child if they have special needs?

14. Further Help

15. About this leaflet

This leaflet was published by the Legal Services Commission (LSC). It was written in association with the Advisory Centre for Education.

Leaflet Version: November 2019

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