If you turn down the school you have been offered, and don’t get awarded another, you are left with no state school to go to, and do not help your case for a place off a waiting list or an appeal.
If unsuccessful at non-selective schools or grammar schools where your child has been found of grammar school ability but the school is full, you should fill in the waiting list form that arrives with your decision letter on March 2nd. You can submit one of these to as many schools as you wish. Kent and Medway Councils reallocate vacant spaces on a date in April, and then hand the process over to schools to make further offers as more vacancies arise. This process continues through the summer and hundreds of places are awarded through waiting lists.
You can also appeal against the decision of any school on your application form not to offer you a place, and can put in as many appeals as you wish. No school should know you are appealing to another, although appeal panels are told the school you have been allocated to on March 1st. There is plenty of free advice around, and you should try your primary school headteacher to see if they will help, although many do not regard this as their business. The internet is another good source of advice, and there are a number of books available for purchase. www.elevenplusexams.co.uk offers advice on grammar school appeals, although it is not specifically targeted at Kent or Medway schools. There are also professional consultants, of whom I am one, but make sure they know the circumstances of the school you are aiming for, as uninformed advice even when provided by a professional is unhelpful and panels for Kent and Medway schools differ widely in expectations at appeal.
Where the school is full, you have to show the Independent Appeal Panel members that the admission of your child to the school is more important than any problems the school and children already there may suffer as a result of upholding the appeal. This may sound a daunting task, but across Kent over 50% of appeals to non-selective schools, and some 35% to grammar schools are usually successful, although this proportion varies widely from school to school. I know of schools that have admitted no children on appeal, and others that have taken in everyone who appealed.
For grammar schools, the Schools Admission Appeals Code contains the central rules: "designated grammar schools may leave places unfilled if there are insufficient eligible applicants; and where the appellant believes that the child did not perform at their best on the day of the entrance test the panel needs to be satisfied (i) that there is evidence to demonstrate that the child is of the required academic standards, for example, school reports giving Year 5/Year 6 SAT results or a letter of support from their current or previous school clearly indicating why the child is considered to be of grammar school ability, and (ii) where applicable, that the appellant’s arguments outweigh the admissionauthority’s case that admission of additional children would cause prejudice". Please note that "the appropriate standard" as interpreted by appeal panels can itself vary, often according to the level of demand for places.
Take your time preparing the appeal, and gathering all the evidence that may help your case. If it looks as if this will take a while, put in a holding appeal stating that you will send in more detailed information later (I would recommend this is sent in by Easter).
You also have the right to change one or more of the schools on your list if another option looks more attractive, but seek the advice of Kent County Council or Medway Council Admissions Departments, who can be most helpful.
Under new regulations, most schools are able to increase the number of children they admit on 1st March, and as this website records, several are already doing this. I understand that others will also have gone down this route. These expansions are sure to reduce the number of disappointed families even further, so 2013 promises to be one of the best years for secondary admissions in Kent for many years.
It is impossible to offer guidance about the Free Schools, especially in Sevenoaks and Wye (except, don't assume anything!), because of the considerable uncertaintiesa bout their futures, as explained here.