Starting primary school is a big moment in the lives of both children and their parents. After completing application forms months ago the time is now nearing to find out if there was success in being granted a place at their first choice school for this coming September.

Offers will be sent out this week - and while most will be celebrating there will be many left disappointed. So what do you have to do once that offer is given - and can you challenge a decision if you have missed out on the school you had your heart set upon?

When do parents find out school places for September 2024?

Parents in England and Wales will find out which school their child has been awarded a place at for September on April 16, 2024. The local authority will send out letters or emails on that date but parents can usually log on to an admissions portal to find the decision on the same date.

What is the chance of getting my first choice school?

In 2023 92.5% of children were allocated their first choice while this rose to 98.3% being offered one of their top three selections.

Do I have to do anything if I'm happy with the offer?

A parent or carer must formally accept the offer by a deadline which is usually set through the local authority’s admissions portal or system. Details of next steps will be sent with the offer.

What can I do if my child didn't get their chosen school?

Parents or carers who are not happy with the school their child is offered can appeal the decision. However, the Department of Education recommends parents should accept the offer their child received to ensure they have a school place even if they are appealing. This will not affect the appeal.

Those wanting to appeal a decision should contact the school’s admission authority, which is responsible for organising the appeal panel. This can be found by visiting their local council website.

The panel is independent and will look at the case presented by both the admission authority and the parent and then make its decision. This decision is binding which means if the appeal is upheld, the admission authority must offer your child a place at the school.

What grounds do I have to appeal a primary school offer?

For an appeal to be successful, the appeal panel must decide that at least one of the following applies:

  • admitting another child would not exceed the class size limit
  • the school’s admission arrangements were not legal and your child would have been offered a place if they had been. This means that the school’s admissions criteria go against the School Admissions Code
  • the school’s admission arrangements were not followed in your child’s case and your child would have been offered a place if they had been properly followed. For example, the distance from your house to the school was not measured accurately
  • the decision to refuse admission was unreasonable. This means that the panel believes that no reasonable admission authority could have come to the same decision. The word ‘reasonable’ has a strong legal meaning in this context and is a high bar. For example, a decision that makes it impossible for you to get all your children to school on time is unlikely to be considered unreasonable. However, if a place was refused to a child whose family had to relocate under a witness protection scheme, the panel might consider that unreasonable.

How do I appeal a primary school offer?

While local authorities set their own deadlines for appeals they must allow you at least 20 school days from the day the offer was given to submit an appeal. Visit your local council’s website to find out how long you have to submit an appeal.

The letter you received about your child’s school place will include details of the appeals process and any deadlines. This usually involves completing an appeal form followed by a hearing with an independent admissions panel.

You will be given at least 10 school days’ notice of the hearing and appeals must be heard within 40 school days of the deadline for submitting an appeal. You normally get told the decision within five days of the hearing however there may be delays if there have been a greater than usual number of appeals.

How are primary school places decided?

All schools have admission criteria to decide which children get places. This criteria is set by the school or local council.

While all state-funded schools must give top priority to admitting children who are in care or have been in care, admission criteria are different for each school. They may choose to give priority to children:

  • who live close to the school
  • who have a brother or sister at the school already
  • from a particular religion (for faith schools)
  • who are eligible for the pupil premium
  • whose parent has worked at the school for two years or more

Your local council can give you information about a school’s criteria.

Why has my child not been offered a place at one of their preferred schools?

Some schools will receive more applications than places it has available and unfortunately not every parent will be successful. Priority must be given to those who most closely meet the school’s specific admission arrangements.

If the local authority is unable to offer a place at one of the parents’ preferred schools, it must offer a place at another school. However, if a parent does not receive an offer of a place parents should contact their local authority for further advice.

Can I join a waiting list for my first-choice primary school?

You can add your child’s name to the waiting list for any school that you’ve applied for. You should still accept the offer you received and this won’t affect where you stand in the waiting list.

Schools must keep a waiting list for at least one term. The waiting list will be ordered by the school’s oversubscription criteria.

In some areas, your child will be automatically added to the waiting lists of the schools you ranked more highly. In others, you must ask to be put on the waiting list. Check the school admissions section of your local authority website to find out how it works in your area.