Choosing a school: a guide for parents, revised November 2016

A guide for parents on choosing a school and the placing request system.

Section 2: Considering your request

When the council gets your placing request in writing, they must:

  • either let you know within a few days that there will be a place for your child in the school of your choice or must tell you who will decide whether there is a place for your child;
  • tell you whether you will have a chance to talk about your wishes to the person who will make the decision, or whether you should write to them;
  • give you the name of the person you should telephone or write to if you have any questions about how your request is being handled;
  • give you a note of what the law says about the reasons why your request may have to be refused;
  • tell you when your request will be treated as having been turned down; and
  • tell you about your right to appeal against refusal.

How quickly does the council have to reply?

If you want your child to start at the school of your choice at the beginning of the school year in August, and if your letter reaches the council by 15 March that year, you must be given an answer by 30 April.

You can of course ask earlier if you wish, but the council will probably not give you an answer any sooner.

If you do not get a written answer from the council by 30 April, your request is treated as if the council had turned it down, and you may appeal. (How to do so is described in Section 3).

Do not delay your request beyond 15 March if you can help it. If you do ask for a place after 15 March, the council has 2 months from receipt of your letter of request in which to make a decision, but all the places at the school you want may have been filled.

If you want your child to go to a different school in the middle of a school year, the council has 2 months to decide, but of course they may be able to give an answer much more quickly.

If your letter reached the council after 15 March, or if you want a place for your child mid-year, and you do not get a written answer from the council within 2 months, your request is treated as if the council had turned it down, and you may appeal. (How to do so is described in Section 3).

When can a council refuse a place in a school?

Once you have told the council, in writing, that you want your child to go to a particular school, the council can only refuse your request for certain reasons set out by law.

The council does not have to admit your child to the school of your choice if any of the following apply:

  • If to do so they would have to employ an additional teacher or spend a lot of money, for example, where they would have to provide an additional classroom.
  • If your child's education would suffer from a change of school.
  • If education in the school you want would not be suitable to the age, ability or aptitude of your child. This might apply if parents want their child to be admitted to a stage of education for which the child is not yet ready, or to a school which cannot meet the child's needs.
  • If they think that your child can only be provided for in the school you want at the expense of the other pupils' education.
  • If the school you want has been provided for children with additional support needs, and the council thinks that your child does not need the special equipment or specially trained staff they have provided in that school.
  • If your child has been very troublesome at school. If a child is excluded from a school, the council is not bound to re-admit him or her. If a child has been in constant trouble, and his or her parents ask for them to be moved to another school, the council can refuse to provide a place if they think that he or she would be likely to disturb the order and discipline in that school, or the educational well-being of pupils attending the school. They may indeed suggest another school better able to cope with the child.
  • If you want your daughter to go to a boys' school, or your son to a girls' school.
  • If accepting the request would prevent the council reserving a place at the school for a child likely to move into the area of the school in-year.
  • If accepting the request would make it necessary for the council to create an additional class or employ an additional teacher at a future stage of your child's primary education.
  • If accepting the request would mean that the capacity of the school would be exceeded in terms of pupil numbers.
  • You may wish to know the exact words used to describe the circumstances in which a council may refuse your request. These are set out in the Annex.

The Scottish Government has issued guidance to councils on how to decide a school's capacity. This information is available on the Scottish Government website as Circular no 3/2004.

What if there are more requests for a school than there are places?

A school may not have enough places to satisfy all the requests they have received. Each council must produce guidelines to be followed in deciding who should be accepted in these circumstances. The guidelines should normally give the first places to children living within the catchment area of the school. Preference may be given to children who already have brothers or sisters at the school. Guidelines may also cover schools where a child can study a subject or take a course that is not available at his or her local school. Guidelines may apply to all the schools run by a council, or only to certain schools.

You can ask for information about the guidelines your council has drawn up for allocating places - telephone or write to the council's education office for further information.

Councils must advertise any proposed changes in their guidelines so that parents and other interested people can let them know their views.

What if your request is turned down?

The council may not be able to give your child a place in the school you want. If this happens, they must tell you (in writing) why they cannot do so. The reason they give must be one of those allowed by the law. If you do not accept or understand their reason, ask the person who wrote to you to tell you more.

If the council tells you that your child cannot go to the school you want, you should consider the following:

  • Did they tell you which school they suggest your child should go to instead? If they have not suggested a school before or after refusing your request ask them now.
  • Do you agree that your child should go to the school the council suggests? If so, tell them. If not, is there another school which would be your second choice? If there is, you can ask the council to give your child a place there. Ask them in writing as you did with your first choice. (If you told the council about your second choice earlier on they may be able to tell you straight away if there is room there).

If, however, you feel very strongly that the council should have given you your first choice, you may want to appeal against their refusal.


Scottish Government Learning Directorate Victoria Quay Edinburgh EH6 6QQ

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