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What to do if your child doesn’t get into their first choice school

Today (Friday 1 March 2024) is ”National Offer Day” – the day school places are announced for secondary schools. National offer day for primary schools is on the 16th of April. Today, parents will find out if their child has made it into their first choice school.

Some parents will have received the news by email, and some will receive it by post, depending on how they applied.

Unfortunately for some, their children won’t be offered their preferred school of choice. You may still be happy with the school place you receive which is great! However, if it’s not quite right the first thing to do is a bit more research. 

Do some research

Try to seek out other parents from the school on your local Facebook page and ask them specific questions you’re worried about. If you’re still not happy, you have two options: try to get on the waiting list for your preferred school or appeal.

You can read the official government advice here and make sure to keep up to date with any changes to regulations here.

Don’t reject the offer straight away

Don’t immediately reject the offer you have been given and keep an open mind. This is so that you have something to fall back on if you don’t make it to the top of the waiting list or an appeal doesn’t go your way. If you reject your original offer, your child may ultimately end up with a place at a less desirable school. 

Check out waiting lists

Each school will have a waiting list. If another child drops out and a position becomes available, your child can take their place. You may automatically be put on your top choice school waiting list if you didn’t get it, so check your local council. If not, some schools you can contact directly and ask to put your child on their waiting list. Double check what the case is with your first choice school. It’s best to do this as soon as possible, and stay patient as their lines can get busy, especially if it’s a popular school.

Don’t be disheartened if your child isn’t offered a place quickly. There’s lots of movement on waiting lists, and this goes on until the very beginning of term. You shouldn’t rely heavily on this though. It’s always good to keep the original offer you were given as a safety net.


There are also certain circumstances where you can appeal, either to the local council, or directly to the school. This depends on the type of school you have applied to. You can find out in the offer letter you receive. The deadline for applying for an appeal is 40 days. But make sure you confirm this with your local council. If you appeal, you’ll be told why your child wasn’t offered a place, but you’ll also be able to put forward why your child should be offered one.

Make sure you have the grounds to appeal, for the best chance of your child getting your desired place. Examples include a mistake in the admissions process, such as incorrectly measuring the distance between your home and the school. The School Admissions Code and relevant law must be complied with. If you do think a mistake has been made, you must contact the Admission Authority immediately. If they agree, then this could accelerate an offer for your child’s place in that school without the need for appeal.

Another example includes a social or medical need, such as your child needing a particular type of care that is better dealt with at your preferred school. Whatever reason for appeal, make sure to collect as much information and evidence as possible to support it. This can include documentation containing medical needs, transport costs, and so on, which you’ll be able to submit with the appeal to strengthen your case.

Holding the appeal

Appeals are usually held in person. You can keep up to date with official government updates about appealing here. Once you submit your appeal it will be acknowledged, but you may not immediately be offered an appeal hearing date. If that’s the case, just keep hanging in there. Once you’ve had a hearing, the decision is usually sent within 5 working days.

If you don’t get the result you’re hoping for, you can’t complain about the outcome itself. But you can make a complaint about the way it was carried out. That way, you’ll receive a decision on your complaint, as well as a letter explaining the reason for the decision. If it’s decided that something went wrong with your appeal, the school may hold a new appeal hearing for you with a different hearing panel.

And remember…

It’s completely natural to feel anxious about school places. The key thing to remember is that there are thousands of parents in the same boat at the moment, and there are lots of options available if you don’t get your first place. 

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