Methodology

School admission appeals in England: methodology

Published

Summary

The release which this note accompanies provides information at national, regional and local authority level on the number of school admission appeals. Appeals can be submitted when an applicant has requested, but not been offered, a place at a particular school.

Most appeals are made when an applicant has not received an offer, via the annual coordinated admissions process, of a place at their first preference school for entry into primary or secondary school. In fact they can appeal for a place at any school ranked higher than the one they were offered. 

In addition, there are appeals where applications have been made to transfer to a different school for the beginning of a school year other than the main entry point, and that application has been refused.

The appeals process

Each LA coordinates admissions to all the state-funded schools in its area. It receives applications for all children resident in its area, and sends offers of a school place on national offer day. 

Under the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 parents have the right to submit an appeal, to an independent appeal panel, against a decision to refuse their child admission to a school for which they have expressed a preference. The process by which this works, including the required timetable for the lodging and hearing of appeals, is set out in the admissions and appeals codes. The appeals code was last updated in February 2012 and can be found at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/275897/school_admission_appeals_code_1_february_2012.pdf.

Applicants have the right of appeal against all schools for which they were not offered a place, if that school was placed as a higher preference than the one they were offered.

The appeal is made directly to the relevant admissions authority for that school. This is the local authority for community and voluntary controlled schools and the school’s governing body for voluntary aided, foundation and academy schools. 

If the appeal panel upholds the applicant’s appeal then that decision is binding on the admissions authority concerned, who are therefore required to find the child a place at the school.

Appeals relating to a request for a child to move to a new school outside of the main entry point (and the coordinated admissions process) are run by the same procedure but may have a different timetable.

Impact of the pandemic on the 2021 collection

The appeal process reported on took place during a period of restrictions related to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, starting after the national offer days of 1 March 2020 (secondary) and 16 April 2020 (primary).

Parents and carers have the legal right to appeal when they have been refused a school place. Measures were therefore put in place to enable appeals to go ahead during the coronavirus outbreak. 

We introduced temporary regulations (which were due to expire 31 January 2021, but have been extended until 30 September 2021), which allow appeals hearings to be held by telephone or video conference, or to be decided on the basis of written submissions only. These temporary regulations allowed parents and carers to continue to have the right to appeal.

Feedback from local authorities and trusts is that, although the temporary arrangements had initially taken some time to implement, they worked efficiently and effectively.

Recent improvements to the collection

In 2019 some schools recorded July entry dates for their new cohort of pupils (year 7 for secondary and reception for primary). To ensure these children are recorded as new admissions, the data processing was adjusted from that year onwards to include entry dates from 1 July onwards. 

Voluntary aided, foundation and academy schools report their admission appeals directly in the spring school census. Up to 2016 the school census returns provided only total appeals figures (plus the infant appeal subsets). For all through schools it was not possible to separately identify appeals relating to the primary national curriculum years and those relating to secondary years. As some of these schools would have recorded infant appeals, all such all-through schools had to be recorded as primary in the appeals dataset.

For the January 2017 school census and onwards the admission appeals module was extended to separately record appeals for the primary and secondary national curriculum years. This meant that appeals in all through schools could be correctly recorded as relating to either the primary or the secondary phase. The new admissions data (used to calculate the proportion of lodged and heard appeals) was adjusted so that the figures were calculated on the same basis.

Interpretation of the figures

The appeals collections gather data on the progress of all admission appeals from initial submission through to their resolution. All received appeals are described as being lodged. If not withdrawn by the parent the appeals will be considered by a panel hearing – this is described as being heard. The heard appeals breaks down into those which have been rejected and those which have been upheld (that is, were successful). This release looks at the number and percentage of appeals which have been lodged, heard and were successful.

Some appeals are resolved before they reach a panel hearing (for example a place at the school could become available via the school’s waiting list) and will therefore be withdrawn. In addition parents can lodge appeals for more than one school but only require a single school place. 

Figures for the total number of admission appeals lodged are provided in this publication but, as described above, the number of appeals actually heard by an appeals panel is considered to be a more reliable indicator. Therefore in the main tables rates are calculated for appeals heard and those upheld only.

Because the number of appeals heard can be very small at local authority level, there can be significant variation in rates upheld (calculated as percentage of the appeals heard) which only relate to a numerical difference of one or two appeals being successful.

Methodology

The appeals data is derived from two sources: 

The local authorities provide aggregate appeal data for all of their community and voluntary controlled schools via the school admission appeals data collection (APAD), returned to the department each January in relation to appeals submitted by the previous 1 September. 

Foundation, voluntary aided and academy schools submit their own appeal data via the spring school census (admissions appeals module), also held in January. This is because they are responsible for the administration of their own appeals, even if they contract the actual running of those appeals to a third party.

Community and voluntary controlled schools who were in the process of converting to academies provide their data via either the local authority or school census based on their school type on January census day.

In each collection, figures are provided on the number of appeals lodged, withdrawn, heard, upheld and rejected. 

In order to allow us to report on the current academic year, only appeals lodged by 1 September and relating to entry into the start of the academic year (for any school year) are collected. Therefore appeals relating to an application for a child to move schools during the school year are not included. 

Appeals for entry into infant age classes are listed individually. These are a subset of the primary appeals figures. This subset relates to all infant appeals, not just those affected by the regulations limiting the maximum size of an infant class. 

From 2017 onwards, improvements to the school census enabled us to allocate the appeal figures for all through schools to the appropriate school phase. So any appeals they received relating to entry into years reception to 6 have been counted as primary appeals, and appeals relating to years 7 upwards as secondary appeals.

Appeals against non-admission to a school sixth form and 14-19 schools such as UTCs and studio schools are included.

The admissions dataset used to calculate the rates of appeals lodged and heard is calculated from the same school census as that in which the appeals data was submitted. It includes all pupils who were on roll on census day and who were identified as a new entrant into a mainstream maintained or academy school on or after 1 July prior to the academic year starting. The month of July was included for the first time in 2019 after detailed analysis showed that in previous years a small number of schools recorded the entry dates of all of their new arrivals in the July before the new school opened. A very few children who moved schools, with immediate effect, in July may have been included because of this change.

The designation of the governance and phase of each school was aligned to those used in the statistical publication Schools, Pupils and their Characteristics for the same time period.

Accuracy and reliability

149 LAs are required to provide a return for all of their mainstream community and voluntary controlled schools via the school admission appeals data collection (also known as APAD). City of London has no community or voluntary controlled schools and the Isles of Scilly has one school which all children attend – therefore these two LAs are not required to submit a return.

The APAD return includes ‘clean data submit’ which means that an LA can only submit its return if it contains no errors or queries. The return then undergoes additional checks and verification within the department.

Mainstream voluntary aided, foundation and academy schools submitted their appeal data as part of their spring school census return (in the admissions appeals module). This data is submitted to the standard school census checks made by the department. A school’s appeals figures are designated to their school phase and governance based on how each school was recorded in the underlying data of the appropriate ‘Schools, Pupils and their Characteristics’ release.

The appeal rates are calculated, using the above returns, within the department. The school census admissions module requires schools to provide their total number of appeals loaded, withdrawn, heard, upheld and rejected, and of those which were for infant classes. These appeal figures are divided into those relating to primary and secondary years, which allows appeals to all through schools recorded in this dataset to be divided into those relating to primary or secondary appeals, based on national curriculum year.

The admissions denominator used to create the rates for the number of appeals lodged and heard are calculated within the department using the pupil module of the spring school census. It calculates the number of new admissions (that is, a pupil starting at a new school on or after the July prior to the start of the academic year) using the entry date of the pupil and the LA and Estab codes of the school the pupil is recorded as attending. Additional checks are made to identify schools which have converted to an academy, or two schools which have merged into one. This information is used to adjust all pupils to a new entry date, and to identify if the child was in reality an existing pupil of that school (or either of the merged schools).

The admissions figure calculations depend on the LAs correctly recording the pupils’ entry dates in the school census. It also requires additional processing to identify past and present Estab codes for converting schools (required to identify whether a pupil has moved schools), correct recording of the phase and governance of the schools, and correct recording of the conversion dates of academies. Processes have been put in place by the department in recent years to validate the recording of the governance and phase of all schools in the school census.

The number of new admissions is calculated using information on the school each pupil is listed as attending in the pupil level spring school censuses for two academic years. Schools converting to academies or amalgamating (for example individual infant and junior schools combining into a single primary school) sometimes change one or both of the entry dates of all of their existing pupils and their school codes. All attempts have been made to allow for this when calculating the number of new admissions but it is likely that in each year a very small number of schools have the number of their new admissions incorrectly counted. This can result in notable differences in the total admissions figures for a few LAs between years. It is not known the margin of uncertainty for these figures but the processing methodology is thoroughly reviewed every year and the actual processing quality assured.

There are no planned revisions to this statistical release. However, if at a later date we need to make a revision, this will comply with the departmental revisions policy which was updated in February 2019 and is published at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/776236/Statistical_policy_statement_on_revisions_Feb2019.pdf.

The Code of Practice for Official Statistics requires us to take reasonable steps to ensure that our published or disseminated statistics protect confidentiality. The tables produced for this statistical publication have been assessed and it has been determined that suppression was not required to protect confidentiality.

Further data availability

Publications from 2013/04 to 2018/19 are available on the department’s statistics website area of gov.uk. Note there are additional releases for 2008/09 to 2010/11 but the data in these was collected on a different basis and did not include academy schools. The two data series are therefore not comparable. 

From 2020 onwards the application and offer data and accompanying release will be published annually, with timeseries data from 2015/16, on Explore Education Statistics (EES).