Thousands of Ukrainian children are joining UK schools, but some face issues obtaining school places

The war in Ukraine has seen nearly 100,000 Ukrainians forced to leave their homes and resettle in the UK with relatives or host families.

A significant number of children are among them, and that number is likely to grow after the Government announced in June that it would allow under-18s to come to the country without a parent or guardian.

Government figures show 9,900 children have been offered school places in England, out of the 11,400 that have applied.

In most cases, applying for a school place can be done through the local authority, though sometimes applications may need to be made directly to schools. All relevant information will be on the local authority website, with links to schools’ websites if required. It is possible to apply for places at multiple schools at the same time.

It can become slightly more complicated if they are hoping to attend a particular school, usually one the host family’s children are also attending, that has no spaces for new students. Where there are no school places at local schools the local authority can effectively force an oversubscribed school to take a pupil through using its ‘fair access protocol’.

If a child is denied a place at that school, leading education lawyer Dan Rosenberg wants families to know they can appeal the decision, and has shared guidance with us on how to go about it.

“The first point, of course, is that a formal application through the correct channels needs to be made. Verbal enquiries or casual emails are often just ‘brushed off’,” he says.

Once an application is made for a place at a school, that application must be determined, and if no place is given a right of appeal must be provided.

“Often, and not just for Ukrainians, formal rights of appeal are not given to in-year applicants,” Rosenberg says. What often happens in these cases is that families will be told that the child has been placed on a ‘waiting list’, and that they have to wait it out.

“Any failure to provide a right of appeal when rejecting a formal application is unlawful.” And therefore would be open to challenge.

Luckily, the appeals process is relatively straightforward and there are a number of potential grounds on which admission decisions can be challenged.

Yet the deciding factor is ultimately whether the prejudice to the child in not obtaining a place at the school is greater than the prejudice to the school in taking one more child.

A child is able to accept a place at their second-choice school while going through the appeals process. However, it may make it harder to succeed in the appeal if they have settled in well because the prejudice to the child of not getting a place at the preferred school would be less. On the other hand, if they are struggling it may strengthen their appeal.

“In circumstances where a pupil has fled the war in Ukraine and is being looked after and provided support by an English host, and knows nobody else in the UK, a strong argument can be made that the prejudice to the child in not being granted a place outweighs the prejudice to the school, in these circumstances, in taking one more child,” Dan says.

So far as faith schools are concerned, it does not matter if the Ukrainian family is of a different faith or has not been attending a particular religious establishment regularly. The argument, in terms of the prejudice to the child of not getting a place outweighing the prejudice to the school of taking one more child, is the same.

Full guidance on how to appeal can be found here.

However, there are strict rules with Key Stage 1 classes, which allow no more than 30 pupils per class, and if the sought-after school is already at capacity, the appeal would not be successful. The child would then need to join the waiting list.

It may be possible for a child’s position to rise towards the top of the waiting list, if relevant professionals take the view that the child has an exceptional social or medical need to be in that particular school.

Thousands of UK families appeal admission decisions every year, and the process is no different for Ukrainian refugee children.

We are grateful to Dan Rosenberg for setting this out and hope it is useful for host families and relatives supporting Ukrainians through this unimaginably difficult time.


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