Archive Website of the UK government

Please note that this website has a UK government accesskeys system.

Public services all in one place

Main menu

Wednesday, 3 October 2023

Finding a school to suit your child

Finding out as much as you can will help you to make an informed decision about which schools to apply to. Ask yourself what you - and your child - need from a school, and start gathering information early.

Getting information about schools

It’s a good idea to start gathering information as soon as possible, so that you can plan visits to schools and make applications on time. You may find it useful to:

  • contact your local authority for information about schools near you
  • ask yourself which of the schools would best meet your child's needs
  • visit schools
  • read individual school prospectuses, performance tables and Ofsted reports

Contacting your local authority

Your local authority is a useful source of information. Each year, local authorities produce a prospectus booklet (known in most areas as the 'Information for Parents' booklet). Usually published in the summer, the booklet is available free to parents. It will have details on a number of important areas, including:

  • the application process and deadlines
  • the number of pupils at each school
  • how places will be allocated if the school is oversubscribed (the admissions criteria)

You can get a copy by contacting your local authority, or pick one up at your local library.

Choice Advice

Choice Advice is a service provided by local authorities. Choice Advisers provide independent advice to parents, in particular to help those who might find the admissions process from primary to secondary school difficult. Much of the service is face to face.

Get information online

You can also get information about schools from your local authority's website. The links below let you enter details of where you live, then take you to the relevant pages on your local authority's website.

What type of school best fits your child's needs?

Once you have found some local schools which could suit your child, draw up a shortlist.

Before you apply to a school think about your child's personality and their needs. Also consider your family's needs: would you prefer a school which can offer access to after-school childcare? All children are different, and you may find that the school with the best reputation is not necessarily the best choice for your child.

Which school does your child prefer?

Find out what matters to them. You might not agree, but it's important to talk about where they would like to go. This may be more relevant when your child is older and you are choosing a secondary school. Where are their friends going? Starting a new school can be daunting, and having one or two close friends there can help.

Does your child need special attention?

If your child is very bright, shows particular patterns of behaviour or has special needs, it's important to find a school that will be able to give them the necessary support.

Does your child have specific interests?

If they are keen on sport or a specific subject (like maths, languages, art or music) you may want to consider how the school can help to develop their interests. While all state schools follow the National Curriculum, some specialise in a particular subject. There's more about Specialist schools in 'Types of school'.

What extended services does the school offer?

An increasing number of schools are offering services outside normal school hours like breakfast clubs or after-school activities.

Decisions about which extended services to offer are made by the schools themselves. To get information about which services are being offered by your child’s school, you should contact the school directly.

Visit the school

If you think a school may suit your child, go and see it for yourself. Most schools have open days or evenings, providing a good opportunity to see schools at their best, to tour the school, meet staff and have a look at children's work. While you are there, ask yourself:

  • how welcoming the school feels, and whether you are impressed by the children's work on display
  • is the school well equipped - find out where pupils do sport, and what computer facilities are available
  • how your child will get to school – think about safe routes, transport and the length of the journey (it's worth remembering that children can get tired on long journeys, and winter mornings and evenings can be dark and cold)
  • whether the school has a Parent Teacher Association (PTA) – the PTA may be able to give you more information about the school and advice on admissions

You can find out more about PTAs in ‘Getting involved with your child’s education’.

School performance data and Ofsted reports

You might also like to read individual school prospectuses, performance tables and the latest school reports from Ofsted.

Additional links

Simpler, Clearer, Faster

Try GOV.UK now

From 17 October, GOV.UK will be the best place to find government services and information

Useful contacts

Access keys

If you would like to take part in our website visitor survey, please visit the site and then come back and select this link to take part in the survey.