Parents Face Rejection as 2016 School Intake Massively Oversubscribed


  • 10,000+ shortfall in top ten councils alone
  • Secondary school admissions appeals ‘a regional lottery’
  • Children with exceptional social or medical needs caught out by complex forms
A huge shortage of secondary school places in England means parents will once again be disappointed on national offer day.

According to figures obtained by specialist education law firm Simpson Millar under a Freedom of Information request, numerous councils have received far more secondary school applications than they have spaces for this coming September, with the worst being Hounslow London (2,244), Buckinghamshire (1,983), and Trafford Metropolitan (1,213).

The findings reflect an ongoing issue, with appeals made by parents against their child’s school allocation increasing by 10% between 2014 and 2015. However, only one fifth of those appeals are likely to be successful with parents unable to navigate a complex process.

In certain councils, the appeals success figure is just 3% and a leading education lawyer has urged parents to get their arguments straight, if they are to have any chance of getting the school place they want.

Imogen Jolley, head of Education Law at law firm Simpson Millar has also criticised admissions authorities for “camouflaging” requirements for crucial social and medical information which could help parents secure the right place for their child.

How many secondary school places are available in your local authority area? For how many children have applications been made for entry to year 7 in 2016? Shortfall
Hounslow London Borough Council 2907 5151 2244
Buckinghamshire County Council * 6047 8030 1983
Trafford Metropolitan Borough Council 3089 4302 1213
Kent County Council 17787 18812 1025
Haringey London Borough Council 2666 3658 992
Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council 3080 3768 688
Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council* 3339 3955 616
Leicester City Council 3773 4281 508
Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council* 2794 3299 505
Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council 3817 4291 474
Birmingham City Council** 14128 14549 421
Ealing London Borough Council 3356 3783 427
Merton London Borough Council 1699 2060 361
Bury Metropolitan Borough Council 2340 2592 252
Waltham Forest London Borough Council 2950 3197 247

* Includes out of district applications
** Figure includes 447 children with a statement of special educational need or an Education Health and Care Plan.

Unsuccessful appeals

“Nationally, 78% of parents had their secondary school appeal rejected last year, according to official figures,” says Imogen. “In 2015, a record 22,440 parents appealed against the local authority’s decision not to award their child a place at their preferred secondary school – up from 20,237 in 2014.

“We’ve carried out a further review and found staggeringly low appeal success rates in a number of districts including Portsmouth, Westminster, Newham and Kensington, while parents in the Isle of Wight, North Somerset and Barnsley enjoyed some of the country’s highest success rates. This indicates something of a regional lottery when it comes to secondary school appeals.”

Appeals Decided in Parent's Favour in State Funded Secondary Schools
Isle of Wight 100% Hounslow 4.3%
North Somerset 100% Bexley 3.8%
Barnsley 87.9% Bromley 3.7%
Durham 80.3% Wokingham 3.7%
Dorset 77.1% Hammersmith and Fulham 3.3%
Bournemouth 76.0% Kensington and Chelsea 3.2%
Poole 71.7% Newham 3.2%
West Berkshire 64.9% Westminster 3.1%
Telford and Wrekin 60.0% Portsmouth 0.0%

Giving priority on social and medical grounds

Although there is no obligation for schools to include social, emotional and medical criteria in their admissions process, a number of them do. Yet local authority schools can been criticised for offering up complex forms which fail to clearly request the necessary information regarding special circumstances.

Imogen Jolley explains: “In case of oversubscription, a significant number of admission authorities now give priority to children that have additional social, emotional or medical needs. But to be successful in securing a place or winning an appeal on those grounds, parents must be able to demonstrate that the child or the family would suffer genuine detriment if their first choice of school is not granted.

“There are numerous and complex reasons why a child could be at a real disadvantage if they are not awarded their first choice of secondary school. A child that has been the subject of extensive bullying, for example, could benefit hugely from attending a secondary school with ‘new’ friends.

“90% of the cases we run, where there is genuine evidence of social, emotional or medical circumstances, are successful. In most cases, parents had all the necessary information to hand when they filled in the application, but it was not clear how and where to include it. In some cases, local authorities have made no effort to help parents in this regard – details of how to provide this information is somewhat hidden or ‘camouflaged’ inside glossy brochures.

“The Independent Appeal Panel often upholds appeals where it is clear that the admissions authority buried guidance on how to provide further social or medical information, or where space on a form for additional information was quite clearly too small to provide a thorough explanation of circumstances. Sadly, many parents cannot face going through the appeals process and simply accept defeat, even though they have a strong case to make on behalf of their child.”

Emma Pearmaine, Director of Family Services at Simpson Millar says the consequences of missing out on a preferred school place can be detrimental for children of divorced parents: “For parents who are separated, sharing care when a child is rejected from a school local to one or both of them can become extremely difficult. It is the modern principle that children should spend as much time as possible with both parents. In some cases, having an application for a preferred school rejected means a child will spend significantly less time with one parent. This could have a lifetime effect on the child to the detriment of the whole family. Such social considerations should weigh heavily in the decision making of admission authorities but, in many cases, parents are not given the opportunity to explain their circumstances and rationale behind their selection.”

Winning appeals

Although a child or family might meet the relevant social or medical criteria, appeals fail because parents misunderstand what is required to be successful.

Imogen explains: “Parents tend to launch appeals based on their child’s academic strengths rather than focusing what is required under the School Admission Appeal Code. The Independent Appeal Panel is not concerned with which school is the best academically for your child, but whether missing out on their first choice will be of genuine detriment. A well evidenced case of harm to the social, emotional or medical needs of the child or a close family member, if the child does not attend that school, is likely to be successful.”

Example social scenario that might meet the admissions criteria

  • Request for conflicting step-children not to attend the same school
  • Children with low level Special Educational Needs (i.e. those without a statement of SEN or an EHCP) who may need the support offered at particular school
  • A need for a child who has suffered extensive bullying to attend a school in a new area
  • The ability of a disabled parent to take their child to school
  • A particular area/surrounding causing seasonal problems for a child with pollen allergies
Simpson Millar offers parents a free information pack for making a successful appeal. Last year, the highest number of downloads were from parents in Birmingham, followed by Kent and Hertfordshire.

State funded secondary schools 2014
Schools admissions Aug 2014 to 2 Oct 2014 Appeals lodged Appeals heard Appeals decided in parent's favour
South East 97,103 4,722 3,733 1,187
North West 82,504 3,653 2,983 1,031
East of England 77,298 1,894 1,328 316
West Midlands 72,380 2,484 2,019 374
South West 61,900 1,306 1,069 408
Yorkshire and Humber 61,704 2,291 1,731 525
Outer London 60,978 2,444 2,038 276
East Midlands 56,227 1,606 1,286 455
North East 31,603 555 456 213
Inner London 30,555 1,485 1,092 84

Regions Where Most Parents Downloaded Simpson Millar’s Appeals Assistance Pack in 2015
Birmingham 52 Manchester 13
Kent 27 Surrey 13
Hertfordshire 26 Trafford 13
Essex 22 West Sussex 12
Unspecified Regions 22 Bristol, City of 11
Bradford 20 Enfield 11
Lancashire 14 Northamptonshire 11
Liverpool 14 Buckinghamshire 10
Leeds 13 Lambeth 10

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