Under the Education Act 1980 parents are permitted to state a preference for which school their child will attend, although under that legislation there was no requirement for schools or local authorities to comply with parents' declared preferences. At this time the allocation of places fell under the remit of local education authorities, which were responsible for strategic planning of provision in their own geographical area. Following the Education Act 1988, however, schools are now obliged to comply with parental preference, as long as there are places available. Taken together, these two Acts have allowed parents to express a preference over their child's schooling, and to expect a positive response if a place is available, even in cases where the preferred school lies at some distance and in a different local authority from that in which the child lives. If parents are unsuccessful in gaining their first choice of school for their child, they are entitled to lodge an appeal against the school's decision. Such appeals are heard by independent appeal panels, which exclude from membership any representative of the local authority or member of the governing body of the school in question. The decision of the appeals panel is final.
Inevitably, the expression of parental preference has led to some schools—usually those which are known to perform best in raising and maintaining pupil attainment—becoming a more popular choice than others. This is reflected in the fact that the number of admissions appeals made in England annually continues to rise. Popular schools may quickly become oversubscribed, and as an inevitable result it becomes the school itself which is in the position of exercising a degree of choice over its intake of pupils. Less popular schools which have not succeeded in gaining as good a reputation have less choice over which pupils they enrol. To some extent, therefore, it could be argued that the introduction of parental preference has led to practices of recruitment and enrolment which bear some echoes of a selective model of school place allocation, since schools which are in a position to exert some choice over their intake will tend to recruit pupils whose potential for attainment will reflect well on the school. See also school admissions.