What to do When You Don’t Get Your Choice of Primary School (By Someone Who Went Through This Last Year)

Primary School Results

On Monday 18th April, thousands of parents all over the UK will be waking up to discover if they have secured their choice of primary school for their child. A bit like getting exam results, some will be relieved and delighted. Others will be slightly disappointed and perhaps a small minority will be in shock, howling with complete disbelief.

This was me a year ago. My husband had checked the email very early in the morning, I had laughed when he read out the name of a school that I’d never even considered, assuming that he was joking. This soon turned to total shock. Not only had we not gained a place at our first choice of school, but we hadn’t gained a place at the other 3 choices either.

Shock, Upset and Fury

I spent the day in tears and utter shock. We live just 0.3 miles away from our first choice of primary school. It is less than a 10 minute walk away, all of our friends and neighbours who live in our nearby roads send their children to this school and I’d naively assumed that we would be joining them in sending our eldest daughter to this school too. I’d even been TELLING her about going to this school when we’d walked past it!

We bought our house expecting to walk both our children to the local school, sent both girls to the local pre-school, forged links with the local community and then we were being told that it was all for nothing and that I’d have to drive my kids 2 miles away to another school where she would know no one.

I was furious! Furious with the school, furious with the system which makes you go through a ridiculous process of listing 4 schools for nothing and unfairly furious with everyone else who had managed to get in!


So why had this happened? What had gone so disastrously wrong that for the first time ever we had been the first family that lived so close to the school but who had not obtained a place?

  • Siblings. Children with older siblings understandably take priority for places. We had been completely unlucky in that a huge proportion of last year’s intake had older siblings.
  • Adopted Children. Whilst I agree that fostered children and children in care should definitely take priority, I don’t agree that adopted children who have permanent parents should also take priority over other children. Last year adopted twins who live 2 miles away in another village secured a place before us.
  • Housing. The biggest problem that is affecting the competitiveness for primary school places up and down the country is the development of new housing. I understand that new housing is vital, but it is being built at such speed with no real thought to the supporting infrastructure including doctors, transport and schools. I truly believe that this problem will be exacerbated every year unless something drastic is done to address the problem. Despite living in the centre of our village for 2 years, children living in houses built last year on an estate outside of the village were giving precedence for places at the school because they were classed as being nearer “as the crow flies.” Don’t even get me started on the fact that these people actually have a longer walk to the school than us, I mean who “flies” to school??!

Preparing for Primary School Appeal

What to do Next

If you find yourself in a similar position to me, there are 2 courses of action that you can take to try and obtain a place at your preferred school.

  1. Waiting List
  2. Appeal


  1. Waiting List
  • This is your strongest case for getting into your choice of school. When the waiting list opens, (the admissions department at your county council will tell you when this will be, you may have to wait an agonising couple of days), be sure to phone and request to be put on the waiting list for ALL of the schools that you want to be considered for.
  • You can ask to be put on the waiting list for other schools outside of your 4 options and bizarrely, you will be judged on the original criteria (i.e. siblings as a priority and then distance rather than being sent to the bottom of the waiting list).
  • Be prepared for the long haul. Phone the admissions department to find out where you stand regularly but understand that you can move DOWN as well as up the waiting list. I was near to the top of the list but to my disbelief and outrage, went down 2 places on the list when 2 other families moved into the area. This is because they either moved nearer to the school than me or had older siblings that were already at the other school.
  • You tend to remain on the waiting list until Christmas and then you have to request to stay on it. We are still on the waiting list for our preferred school.

2. Appeal

  • Let me be honest with you, very few appeals are granted. This is because councils are bound by the law to not exceed the legal class size limit which in most primary schools is 30. Some primary schools which are very old and small may have an even lower restriction. You will need to build independent appeals for each school that you want to be considered for.
  • If like me, you want to go ahead with the appeal and give your best shot at getting your preferred choice then you will need to do research. You will need to read up on all the primary school admission documents and school admissions policy legal documents in order to quote it back in your appeal. I practically turned into a solicitor last summer, spending hours reading and researching documents. You will have to submit a written document and later on, in the summer, you’ll be invited to present your case before a panel of judges as well as the school. This is scary stuff, but the judges are independent and will be looking to back the parents up.
  • There are 3 main areas in which you can appeal:

1) Legal class size limit. As mentioned above, most appeals are bound by this. But if you can show that the school hasn’t exceeded their legal class size limit or if they are capable of taking more pupils, then this is your strongest argument.

2) A mistake has been made in the application of the criteria. For this you need to know firstly what your school bases their acceptance criteria on. For example, our preferred primary school based their criteria on a) “Looked After Children” (fostered, adopted etc.) b) Children with older siblings already at the school. c) Distance to school.  Has a mistake been made? Consider how the school and council classifies distance. Our school chose as the crow flies from the school front door to the nearest point of your property. You will need to check as some schools use “safest walking distance”. Use online distance calculators to determine if other people that have been allocated a space actually live further away. Keep your ears open!  I discovered that my preferred primary school had made a mistake by accepting a family who lived further away than us because they thought they had a sibling, so the school had to admit another family from the waiting list to compensate.

3) A case for Unreasonableness or is Unfair.  You can’t just say it’s not fair that you didn’t get your local school. You need to use strong arguments for why you think it is unreasonable. A medical reason or a disability will be the strongest case. Consider also your journey to your allocated school.

Ultimately, you can do your best with the appeal but the rest of it is a waiting game.

Gosh, this has turned into a very long post and has brought back many memories from last year. It has been cathartic writing this but also got me slightly fired up again! But I hope it brings some help or comfort to anyone that is going through what we went through.

Whilst it’s very hard to do, I would say be very careful what you say and how you act in front of your child. Children do pick up on your behaviour and mood no matter how much you try to hide it from them. This can bring all sorts of problems for when your child does eventually start school in September. We spent months agonising over whether we would get into the local school, stressing about the appeal which, when combined with the devastation of losing my father-in-law, meant we had a very distraught and unhappy house over the summer. I’m sure this is the main reason why my daughter had such a hard time settling in over the autumn.


Thankfully our daughter has now settled into school and enjoys it. I’m not sure what we would do if a place ever did come up at our local school. There would be a lot to weigh up and consider.

I’ll be thinking of all the mums and dads waiting on primary school allocations next week. I hope there aren’t too many families going through what we did. xx


Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



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69 thoughts on “What to do When You Don’t Get Your Choice of Primary School (By Someone Who Went Through This Last Year)

  1. This is me! I am currently worrying all the time about the outcome next Monday. I don’t think we are going to get any of our 3 choices of schools, due to lots of reasons! I worry about what school my eldest will be placed in and then if I will be able to get my youngest in the same school two years later!! x


    • It’s such a stress isn’t it? At least you are going in with your eyes wide open where as I was completely naive! I’ve also get a younger one to consider for next year. Getting into a school never used to be this stressful did it? I hope you get what you want. Do let me know next week. X


  2. I personally haven’t even considered the fact that Mine might not get in. When I filled out the application I only put in one choice so after reading this I am crossing my fingers lol 🙂 thanks for sharing


    • Good luck!! I think the majority of people get one of their choices of schools. It seems I am in a massive minority to not get any of our 4 choices. Be thinking of you all on Monday. Let me know how you get on! X


  3. This is such a useful post! Where we used to live our friends a couple of doors down didn’t get into the school they wanted. It really is awful when you don’t get the school you want and you feel so helpless and frustrated. This post will be such a fantastic resource to other parents in that boat.#Coolmumclub


  4. Eurrrgh. We went through this last year with both my girls who were starting infant and middle school – neither of them got into their first place, and my eldest was sent to some random school with the worst Ofsted I’ve ever read! Thank goodness, she got into our first choice school in the second round.

    It’s such a flawed system, although I don’t mind the adopted children being given preference as apparently before this rule was introduced vulnerable children were being deliberately left in the care system until AFTER they’d started school, just so they’d be able to secure their first choice. Crazy world.

    Also, distance to the school is sadly not a grounds for appeal – particularly in primary school, where getting them to overturn a decision is nigh on impossible – nor is the fact that it would be literally impossible for you to get your children to school on time (particularly if you need to be a different schools at different locations at the same time), nor is the fact that getting your children to their schools could result in you losing your job in the process. They’ve basically covered their butts against every possible argument, so that allocating a place is utterly at their discretion *insert swear word*.

    I get 18 months more of blissful ignorance, then have to go through it all again when my youngest applies for middle school!!!!!! *pours glass of wine*


    • Oh dear – awful! Sounds like you had s year like mine! Why is it so stressful?! Take your point about adoption, that makes sense and can’t believe that was happening! And yes, totally agree, there is no real win on appeal on any argument. I only meant re: distance, that that is one example where people might try and prove that a mistake has been made, but as you say, it’s pretty impossible. Swear words and wine are definitely mandatory when applying for schools it seems! Good luck next time round. X


  5. Wow. Now I’m REALLY nervous! We have put down 3 schools (2 faith schools and one which is Tigs Nursery). They are all hard to get in to…the nursery one was a bit of a try (prob won’t get it, but wanted to just see)…we should get one of the two Catholic ones as our priest signed our form (different rules apply in faith schools criteria). BUT who the hell knows. (No pun intended). Guess we find out our fate next week!
    Thanks for pointing out your post – needed to know all of this…. x
    Thanks for linking up to #coolmumclub


    • Sorry!! Didn’t mean to make you nervous. But I think it’s good to go in with your eyes open. Last year I wasn’t worried at all, I was so naive!! You’re right, faith schools are different. Good luck and keep me posted. Xx


  6. This was very informative. My son is just turning 3 but I realiae that it will be the end of this year we will have to go through the process. I am really not keen on the schools in our catchment so really would like to try getting him in elsewhere. I believe he is gifted and needs more stimulation than a lot of his peers. Although I dont have him diagnosed. Maybe its worth doing that to fight our case. Glad it all worked out even if you didnt get the school you had hoped for. #Thelist


  7. Great post, and really helpful I’m sure for lots of people.

    We were in catchment for our local village school, we knew there were 10 kids ahead of us from catchment (siblings, or closer) for 15 places, and going on previous years it was unlikely any medical or in care would apply. We did get a place but as the nearest outside catchment so behind children outside catchment with siblings. I’m still fuming now because we ended up being number 14 and nearly not getting a place. Somehow despite us being in school catchment according to the application form and the catchment maps you get told to check (there’s basically a box round our farm putting us inside it), the decision was based on being in the parish which we’re not. Basically we weren’t put in any school catchment because of that cock up. If we’d not got a place I’d have gone ballistic, but thankfully didn’t have to – apart from a very strongly worded letter suggesting they make it clear which catchment area they’re following and that they need to check parish vs school catchments.

    In ours, 2 people appealed, and both got a place without even having to talk in the appeal session. Since then 1 person moved into the vague area although outside catchment and was given a place because an older sibling got in, then another moved next door to us so in catchment and was eventually given a place after kicking up (landowner parent who’s worked with the school a lot and went to the school himself). Then eventually after Feb half term another child randomly was let in. We’ve no idea how because the year capacity is 15 (I think from what non-school parent friends say he’s special needs plus an older sibling got in although the school isn’t specialist in that), although Y1 is split so the class did have space according to the legal limit. So reception is 20 kids for a capacity of 15 which is fine now, but means that our kids once in Y1 won’t be able to all move up to be in with Y2 like usual, they’ll have to have quite a few stay down, and in future the school is going to have to either employ an additional teacher to cope with potentially 35 kids in a class in a tiny village school classroom, or accept fewer than 15 for this year’s reception.

    We’re not happy because they just keep adding new children in but there’s not space in our year….there is in Y2.

    So there is hope for appeals and schools seem to find ways to do it, even though existing parents don’t like it, existing kids could end up in much bigger classes which isn’t as good for them or the teachers.

    I just think everyone should get places in their local school, then anyone who wants to apply for different schools can do so. That would make it fairer for local children to get their own school, then people could take up any spare places or change to different schools where available. I don’t see why medical/in care/adopted kids outside catchment should get places ahead of those in catchment. The only downside is as you say all the building. My old primary is a big school and caters for children from various villages outside, but now there’s so much building in the big villages, the other kids in catchment from other villages are just getting shipped off wherever else. I think the school issue is what’s leading to a lot more people home educating. #thelist


    • I agree that I think more people are home schooling. I can’t really comment on your case without knowing all the facts, but it sounds like if they’re letting more people in then they must have the capacity or are planning to deal with extra capacity in year 1. I’ve not heard of this before as most other oversubscribed schools can’t physically accept more children due to the legal class size limit.


  8. I do feel for anyone in this position – we were very lucky and got our first choice of primary school for BB last year, but I know lots of people who didn’t get any of their choices. Nightmare! #thelist


  9. Wow, we have to put Mia’s name down this year and I’m dreading it as our preferred school is a very popular one that me and my siblings went to years ago but we are nowhere near catchment. We are moving house to be nearer but its expensive in the area of course but I’m so worried that we wont get in! Thank you for popping this post up as its helped me understand the process of what happens next! 🙂



  10. Wow, this brings it all back. The EXACT same thing happened to us. We didn’t get any of our 4. It is so so stressful isn’t it? Tears were shed, endless conversations about ‘should we move’ or not… Not an easy time at all. I’m glad your little one is ok now. Ours has since moved and has had another wobble. It’s painful as a parent. I’m sure they’ll be fine long term though… x #KCACOLS


    • Awful isn’t it? I even feel sick thinking about tomorrow’s results! My husband and I had similar endless conversations about moving. I’m pleased my daughter has settled but I’d be tempted to move if a place comes up down the road. Hope your child settles back in soon. X


  11. What annoyed me last year is our catchment school was a 30 minute walk and the nearest school to us, 10/15 minutes walk away wasn’t our catchment and we were literally a step over the catchment line. My daughter was placed on the waiting list for first choice and we got a call the week after she had already started in her catchment school. We have been walking to and from every day since September, sometimes she struggles with the distance but the friendships she’s made have been worth it and I’m glad I didn’t move her. However I expected to be fitter having to walk two hours a day! #kcacols


  12. This is something that worries me. We live right in between our two village primary schools – it’s about a 3 minute walk to each. It’s so important to me that my daughter goes to the Welsh-medium school because we’re a Welsh family, it’s her family’s language – I don’t know what I’d do if she got allocated to the English-medium school instead, I’d be heartbroken!
    Glad to hear your daughter is settling in at her school x #KCACOLS


    • You would hope that living 3 minutes from each, you’d have no difficulty in getting into either but seeing how crazy and competitive places have now become you can’t count on anything anymore. I hope you get the one you want. X


  13. Thanks for sharing this – I’m sure it will be helpful to someone come this week. This problem seems to get worse each year – I’m shocked that you weren’t able to secure a place despite living so close. We live a similar distance away from our local school, so I really hope that we don’t end up in a similar situation. I’m really pleased to hear your daughter has settled in now though. #KCACOLS


    • Thanks. It was an awful shock and I kind of relived it all again today hearing the news and everyone talking about their places. Unfortunately I don’t see the problem going away unless more schools are built. Thanks for reading. X


  14. This sounds so stressful and unnecessarily so. I haven’t experienced the new system first hand yet but it seems ridiculous. Your daughter looks such a sweetie in the photo, I hope she has settled in now. Thanks for sharing this with us all! #bigpinklink


    • Thank you, I’m so relieved that she has now settled but if I’m honest, I still feel upset and cheated about what we went through especially hearing that our neighbours all got in with their kids today! It’s a gruelling system that is completely outside of your control. X


  15. This is such an informative post. My boy is only 14 months so we wont be going through this for a while, though I already have my eyes on a school. It’s big and take in 120 a year and we live fairly close by, so fingers crossed. But it must be very hard. I grew up in Denmark and things are slightly different there, though I did get sent to a school quite far away as the one closes to us was in a different borough and so I couldn’t go.

    Wishing everyone good luck for this year. #bigpinklink

    Nadia – ScandiMummy x


  16. We got the school we wanted, then we moved and had to find a school in our new area that had a place by speaking to them directly. The school within walking distance was completely full and there were twins ahead of us who had to have a place because they had siblings already at the school. The parents hadn’t realised they had to fill a form in. (Not sure how, as you got bombarded with notes about this in the run up to submission and the school had made a point of telling parents in their position they still had to go through due process!)

    We ended up at a school that was a bit of a walk away, but it all worked out well. The Tubblet settled in and did okay 🙂 Like you, we stayed on the waiting list for the school within walking distance. Eventually we were offered a place. By the time it came up the Tubblet had been in her school for over a year and we thought it would be better to leave things as they were. When we moved again, we kept her there as we thought that continuity at school would be a good thing.

    It’s a horrible process … Really stressful.


  17. I was so thoroughly relieved this morning that my eldest got into the local school. I grew up in the next village and went to this school and it is the best in our area. It’s why I moved back to the area. But I have been fretting and worrying about this since I applied last year, and I can’t even begin to imagine how I would have felt if we hadn’t secured him a place. I am so sorry you had to go through such a nightmare. #KCACOLS


  18. It is so tough isn’t it, I wish things could be made easier for parents. I hope my youngest will get into the local primary down our road which is superb and my eldest attends. The likelihood is he will x


  19. One of my friends did not get her little boy into her local primary today even though her older daughter already goes to that school, how can she be in 2 places at once 3 miles apart from each other. The system is so wrong in this case. Siblings should be kept together xx



  20. No wonder you were angry, I feel really angry on your behalf! This system is ridiculous, uneccessary, and causing families a huge amount of stress. I would’ve gone through every single emotion that you did, and would’ve also fought as hard as you to get this unfairness recognised!! I’m so sorry that your daughter didn’t settle well, and I hope she is doing really well now. We are lucky to be within walking distance (about 5 minutes,) to all three of what will be our top 3 choices (our eldest will be starting school a year in September,) and all three schools are Ofsted outstanding, so I’m really hoping we will get at least one of those. I have a favourite-we live in a city, and not many of the schools have playing fields, or a lot of outside space, and my first choice is the one that has a huge amount of green outdoor space, and 2 huge playing fields. Our fourth choice is still a really good school, but it’s an academy, and I’ve heard it’s very strict, and overly academic, which I’m not really keen on. But it’s still only 10 minutes away, and if the worst came to the worst, and the children go there and aren’t happy, I will try my hardest to get them moved! But I’m not looking forward to this process at all!! Thanks so much for sharing with #bigpinklink


    • Thank you. I did shed a few tears yesterday as I remembered what we went through last year and how unlucky we were. My next door neighbour’s little boy got into the school this year so it’s just down to bad luck in the number of siblings we had last year. Still feels very unfair and hard to bear be the only one to be turned away! If you have 3 schools in such close proximity you would think that you would be fine. Good luck for next year. I’ve also got to apply for my youngest next year which I’m not thinking about for now! Thanks for hosting. Xx


  21. I remember that day two years ago and we had to wait all day to find out if my son got into the local school. Thankfully he did so I can only imagine how upset you must have been to have not been accepted!

    It’s such a stupid system and causes parents so much stress and like you say this in turn effects the children too because there is so much tension in the house.

    I hope your daughter is doing well now and thank you for linking up to #KCACOLS. I hope to see you back again next week. xx


    • Thank you yes she has now settled but I still get pangs of regret about what happened and the unfairness of it all. Such a horrible system which I think is only going to get worse. Thanks for hosting! X


  22. It must be so difficult! In the west of Ireland, everyone goes to the local school. Sometimes there are a few near by to choose from but most of the time you can have your pick. We are lucky we don’t have this worry to deal with! Thanks so much for linking up with us at #bloggerclubuk x


  23. Oh God I know what you mean!! This is so stressful!! I was also waiting 2 years ago to hear the results. Yes you are right, it does feel that you are waiting for your university exam results! LOL We were lucky and got our first option but I know people close to us that didn’t and had the same experience than you!! Just awful!! I’m so glad to hear that your daughter is now settled and happy. I’m wondering now what will you do if she finally gets the place!! Just a silly system!! I hate seeing parents upset over this especially when they live in the catchment are of the school!! Thanks so much for sharing this story at #KCACOLS. I’m sure this will be very helpful to other parents that are in the same situation than you. At least they won’t feel alone! It is great to have you for the first time. I hope that you enjoyed it!! It would be lovely to see you again on Sunday! 🙂 xx


    • Oh I’m sorry you didn’t get what you wanted. Good luck with appeal process, I’m thinking of writing another post about that as this one seems to have provoked quite a bit of a reaction. I know what you mean, I sometimes even now feel like I’m the only one in my neighbourhood who went through this so it is comforting to know there are others out there!! X


  24. What a nightmare. My niece didn’t get into the same school as my daughter and older niece and at first she wasn’t happy. But luckily she now loves her school so it worked out well in the end. It must be so hard waiting to find out if you have been successful after going through all fo this #kcacols


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