Applying for a school place

How do I actually apply for a school place for the child I am raising?

Local councils manage all school admissions to state schools, so to apply for a school place you need to contact your local council, normally their Children's Services Department.

To apply for a place, you will be asked to fill in a form, which may be on-line, listing the schools you would like the child you are raising to attend, and stating your order of preference. You should check the deadline date for applying, and make sure you do not apply after this date.

It may not be easy to change schools quickly if the child has just moved in with you. For example if the child's move in with you is sudden and takes place mid-term, you will need to consider the pros and cons of the child changing school: how far do they travel to their present school; what are their feelings about changing school and the journey involved; how would the change affect their education; are they going to return to their parents; would it be better to wait until the change of school can be done in a more planned way? If you still feel that it would be best for the child to change schools sooner rather than later, you should check the local policy for in-year admissions and transfers. You might need to discuss the circumstances directly with the local education authority, and if there is a social worker involved you should ask for their assistance in supporting the child's need for a change of schools. Popular schools are likely to already be fully subscribed, so you should make sure that the local authority is aware of any ways in which the child meets the criteria for being a high priority (see note below).

It is a good idea to apply to a number of schools in your area, since many schools are over-subscribed, particularly those which have a good reputation. Putting down the names of all the schools you would like the child to be considered for increases the chances of the child being accepted into one of those schools and will not disadvantage you in relation to your first choice.

You should ensure that you fill in all the options – if you leave any spaces blank and there are no places available in the schools you have listed, then the council can simply allocate the child a place, usually in a less popular school.

It is important to put the schools in your preferred order. The child will be offered a place in the highest-placed school on your list which has vacancies and for which they meet the admissions criteria. This means that if you've put a school which isn't your favourite choice at the top of the list, perhaps because you've been told that they won't accept an application unless they are first choice, you cannot then choose a school lower down the form if you are allocated a place at the school which is top of your list.

Many secondary schools also require you to fill in a separate form for their own purposes. Read these documents carefully, as sometimes they include different deadlines or ask for additional steps to be completed, e.g. they may ask for the form to be signed by the primary school headteacher, etc. We suggest that you check the schools' websites, or the council's Secondary Schools Booklet, for information about supplementary forms.

You may be asked to give reasons for your preferences, for example if you want the child to attend a particular school because it specialises in a subject the child has an aptitude for, or you want a particular type of school, such as a faith school.

Before you fill in the forms, it is important to familiarise yourself with the selection criteria of the school you would like the child to attend, as you will need to say in your application how the child meets the selection criteria, e.g.:

  • they have a Statement of Special Educational Needs (in this case the child is given priority over other applicants)
  • they have siblings at the school, or you have children at the school and they are now living together in your household like siblings
  • you live close to the school
  • they are being brought up in the religion of a faith school
  • some schools prioritise children with a recognised social or medical need which must be supported by professional evidence.


Note also if the child you are raising is looked after in the care system, or they used to be and are now under a Residence Order or Special Guardianship Order, you should tell the school this as they should be given priority for a school place (see section on School Admissions Code for more information).

If the school you select is under-subscribed, i.e. the school has more places than there have been applications for children to fill those places, then the school is obliged to accept your application. However, if the school is over-subscribed, then the school must follow its own written selection procedures.

Once you have made the application you will normally have to wait a few months for the outcome. There are usually different dates for the announcements of early years, primary and secondary school place allocations. If the child is not offered a place in the school which was your first choice, there are several ways you can respond (including appealing against the decision), which are outlined here.

If you have applied outside of the usual timetable for applications, for example because of the timing of the child's move to you, then you should refer to the local authority's procedures for in-year admissions and transfers, to see what their timescale is for responding to your application in those circumstances. It might take a bit of persistence on your part in following it up with the local authority, as this can be a slow process.

Further information

ACE Education: Applying for a school and ACE Education Disappointed with the school place offered to you?
Apply for a primary school place
Apply for a secondary school place