Navigating the Appeals Process for When Your Child Isn’t Allocated a Preferred Grammar School Place

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Sarah Woosey

Interim Head of Education Law

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Aside from a limited number of exceptions, Grammar Schools are the only schools in England and Wales that can admit children based on their academic abilities. If you have made an application for your child to attend a Grammar School, you’re already aware of the 11+ examinations that are used to decide if your child is of grammar school ability.

But what happens if your child wasn’t offered a place?

Even if your child did perform to the required standard in their 11+, they may not be offered a place at the school. This is because there are often not enough places available. So, if you’ve not been offered a place because of a limit in numbers, you will need to appeal if you wish to challenge this decision.

For legal advice get in touch with our Education Lawyers.

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Why Might Grammar Schools Refuse Admissions?

In the UK, there can be several reasons for refusing admission to a grammar school. These reasons often revolve around the school's admission criteria and specific circumstances. Here are some common reasons:

  • Failure to Pass the Entrance Test: Grammar schools typically admit students based on their performance in entrance tests, such as the 11+ exam. If a child does not meet the required standard in these tests, they may be refused admission. An appeal may still be possible depending on the circumstances around the test.
  • Oversubscription: Grammar schools are highly sought after, and they may receive more applications than they have places available. When the number of applicants exceeds the school's capacity, some students may be refused admission.
  • Location/Catchment Area Criteria: Some grammar schools give priority to students within a defined geographical location. This is known as a catchment area. If a child lives outside the school's defined catchment area, they may be refused admission in circumstances where the places are all allocated to those within catchment.
  • Admissions Arrangement Issues: In some cases, the admission authority may make errors or not follow the proper admissions procedures. If a child is wrongly denied a place due to these issues, they may have grounds for an appeal.

It's essential for parents to understand the specific admission criteria and policies of the grammar school they are applying to. If a child is refused admission and the parents believe it's unjust, they may have the option to appeal the decision. .

Even if your child did not pass the 11+ exam, you are able to make an appeal and the way the Independent Appeal Panel deal with this depends on the school’s processes for the 11+, as follows:

Grammar School Internal Review Process

Grammar Schools may have an internal review process for children who’ve failed the 11+ examinations by a small margin. This review process has to be conducted fairly and equally to all children in this situation.

You should ask the school if they have an internal review process. You should also know that any internal review process has to comply with the Schools Admissions Code. If the school does have an internal review process and you decide to appeal, the Independent Appeal Panel will only look at whether the Code was followed and if the review was conducted fairly, when reaching their decision. This means that your child’s academic ability will not be considered by the panel as part of any subsequent appeal.

No Internal Review Process?

However, if the school doesn’t have an internal review process, then the Independent Appeal Panel has to initially decide if your child is of Grammar School ability. This could involve looking at SATs results, previous school reports and any other relevant documents. If, as a result of all that information, they decide that your child is not of Grammar School ability, then the appeal would not be successful.

If, after consideration of the evidence, the Independent Appeal Panel decides that your child is of Grammar School ability, then the appeal would continue to consider the usual tests as per the below.

The General Secondary Admissions Appeal Process

The first question for an appeal panel in a standard appeal is whether the oversubscription criteria for the school in question has been applied correctly. Relevant considerations here could be:

  • Has distance between the home address and the school been applied correctly?
  • Has the correct home address been used?
  • Was the application dealt with as ‘in time’?
  • Has the catchment area been defined clearly and fairly?
  • Does the child have a sibling at the school and has this been considered accordingly?

If a parent proves that the oversubscription criteria was not applied correctly and that had it been applied correctly, that their child would have been offered a place then the appeal should be successful. However, if it is determined that there were no errors in this respect then the panel should go on to consider whether there would be greater harm (referred to as prejudice in the legal test) to the school if they were forced to take additional students above their capacity (their Published Admissions Number) or to the child if they were not offered a place.

Stage 2

This part of an appeal is very personal to your child and enables the panel to properly weigh up your individual circumstances in addition to properly considering the circumstances of the school and the impact of additional pupils on their space and resources. They need to weigh the prejudice to the child of not attending the school with the prejudice to the school of having to accept more pupils.

Your Case for Appeal

Making a strong case for your appeal is important to increase your chances of success. This section shows the importance of putting forward good reasons that focus on your child's unique needs and circumstances. Here's why this matters:

Favourable Reasons: While you can appeal for various reasons, it's vital to have a compelling argument. Having a preference for a particular school isn't  enough to sway the appeal panel. Instead, concentrate on what the chosen school can offer that uniquely caters to your child's needs or circumstances. Highlight aspects that differentiate it from other schools and explain how it aligns with your child's specific circumstances or needs.

Simpson Millar understand that this can be a highly stressful time for you. We’ve successfully assisted with appeals many times before and rest assured, we will put your case forward in the best possible way.

We offered fixed fee advice packages which enable parents to receive specific advice on their case, the strength of their case, the options available to them and any evidence they need to support their case before determining whether to instruct lawyers to deal with the appeal. Get in contact today to see if we can help you.

Appeal Hearings

Appeal hearings are an important part of the process, where you can present your case. The procedures and key individuals involved are detailed in this section to provide you with a clear understanding of what to expect.

  • Hearing Formats: Appeal hearings can take various formats, including in-person, remote by video conference, or a hybrid of both. The choice of format is typically at the discretion of the admission authority, and the panel must ensure that the hearing is fair and transparent, irrespective of the format chosen.
  • Equality Act 2010: The Equality Act 2010 plays a significant role in ensuring a fair appeal process. The admission authority and appeal panel must adhere to their duties under this Act to prevent discrimination. This may include providing reasonable adjustments to accommodate participants with disabilities or specific needs.
  • Stage 1 of an appeal hearing concerning the School’s oversubscription criteria and the application of it can often be ‘group’ hearings as all parents tend to be impacted in the same way. You can ask questions about how the criteria was applied to understand whether an error did occur.
  • Stage 2 of an appeal hearing should always be private and no other families should be able to see your documents nor hear your case. This is the part of the hearing where your child’s individual circumstances are key.
  • Depending on the number of appeals, stage 1 and stage 2 of your appeal may be heard on different days.

A decision is rarely made until all parts of your appeal have been heard.

After the Appeal Hearing

This section clarifies what happens following the appeal hearing, including the notification process and the binding nature of the appeal panel's decision.

Notification of Decision: Normally, the clerk will notify you of the panel's decision within five school days. This should be in writing. It is not uncommon for parents to receive an initial phonecall prior to receiving an email containing the written decision.

Binding Decision: It's important to realise that the decision reached by the appeal panel is binding and final. Only through a judicial review can a decision be challenged. Judicial Review is only possible when there is evidence of the panel making a legal error. Legal advice would be essential and must be sought quickly if you consider this to have been the case. Any delay to such a challenge, can be fatal.

Exploring Further Options: In cases where the panel does not uphold your appeal, you still might have alternatives to consider:

  1. Requesting that your child be placed on a waiting list so that if a place does become available, they will be considered for that place.
  2. Requesting names of alternate schools with places available. You can ask for a school place in a school you did not original apply for if there are places available.
  3. You can appeal for a place at more than one school.

How We Can Help with the Grammar School Admissions Appeal Process

Our Education Lawyers understand how upsetting it is when your child hasn’t been offered a place at your preferred School.

We can help you understand if making an appeal is the right decision, giving you help and legal advice about the process and your chances of success.

Our specialist education lawyers can give you all the information you need on how best to approach an appeal and give you their insight into the process, so you are well prepared about what to expect.

Related Articles

GOV.UK. 2023. Advice for Parents and Guardians on School Admission Appeals. [online] Available at:

GOV.UK. 2023. Advice for Parents and Guardians on School Admission Appeals. [online] Available at: 2010. Equality Act 2010. [online] Available at:

Sarah Woosey Profile Picture

Sarah Woosey

Interim Head of Education Law

Areas of Expertise:
Education Law

Sarah re-joined Simpson Millar in 2018 having previously trained at the firm before spending a number of years working for a different national firm. She has a number of years’ experience in a range of Education Law and Social Care issues and has focused particularly on getting suitable education and/or services for children and young adults with a wide range of Special Educational Needs and/or disabilities.

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