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An appealing tale

I knew that many parents appealed when their child didn't get into their first-choice school, but I was amazed to read that in 2010-11 there were 83,000 appeals ("'Groundless' admissions appeals hog teachers' time", 23 November). This is a staggering number and, if nothing else, reinforces the fact that for many parents choice still isn't a reality.

Perhaps the number of appeals shouldn't surprise me. When I became a head, my school wasn't popular. But the appointment of a talented deputy and creative, energetic teachers changed all that. After a few years we began to find ourselves heavily oversubscribed. Knowing we were successful was very satisfying but trying to explain to parents why we couldn't offer a place was much less so.

"I don't understand," Mrs Jones said, "I only live two streets away."

"That's true," I replied, "but everybody we've admitted into that year group lives nearer."

"Well, how is it that Mrs Smith got her children in then? She lives further away than me," she continued.

"Mrs Smith's children are in a different year group and I had spaces for that age," I said.

Mrs Jones began to get a little irritated. "What about Mrs Brown, then? Her kids come from East Dulwich and that's miles away."

"Mrs Brown originally lived over the road," I explained. "She's been rehoused in East Dulwich but her children are still entitled to places."

"Then how did Mrs Green get her Jimmy in here?" she asked. "She lives in the same flats as me."

"True," I conceded. "But Jimmy lives one floor lower than you. It makes Jimmy 10 yards nearer. And we have to measure it all out on a large-scale map. As the crow flies."

"What crow?"

For the umpteenth time, I explained the parental right of appeal, and she brightened a little, although I did not tell her there was little chance of winning. Of those 83,000 who appealed in 2010-11, three-quarters lost but most parents will think it's worth a shot.

I was always sympathetic to the parents I had to turn away. As the years went by, I felt that we were offering a truly first-class primary school experience and it was natural that people wanted their children to be part of it. It was therefore a frightening experience when my daughter, a bright and hard-working child, was turned down for the secondary we wanted. She was offered an alternative, a truly dreadful school, and when the rejection letter arrived we spent a dismal weekend wondering what to do.

Fortunately, after rigorous investigation we proved that the school had been at fault. Our daughter had been unwell just before the entrance test and we had phoned to change the date. When the original day dawned, however, she was determined to go and had passed easily. But somebody had assumed our phone call was a request to remove her from the applicants' list. I shudder to think of how her education could have been wrecked if she had attended the sink school.

What a game of chance it all is. Even local authorities can be highly skilled at mucking up an application or three. A friend had put five schools on her form. She didn't mind which her son, David, attended but the one thing she definitely didn't want was a church school. David was turned down for all five but he was offered an alternative.

It was a church school.

Mike Kent is a retired primary school headteacher. Email:

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