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Wednesday, 3 October 2023

Applying for a school place: admissions criteria

Admission to primary and secondary schools is not automatic. All schools have 'admissions criteria' which the school's admission authority uses to allocate places if they receive more applications than they have places available.

How schools allocate places

Every child aged between five and 16 is entitled by law to a place at a state school. Wherever possible you will be offered a place at one of your preferred schools, but this can't be guaranteed.

Many schools receive more applications than they have places to offer. Every school has an admissions limit, and this determines the number of applicants they will accept.

Admissions criteria

Every school has a set of rules, known as the 'admissions' or ' oversubscription' criteria. Schools that are oversubscribed will follow these rules when allocating places. Admissions criteria are set by the school's admission authority.

State schools

  • the local authority (for 'community' or 'voluntary controlled' schools); or
  • the school's governing body (for 'foundation' or 'voluntary aided' schools)

Independent schools

Independent schools decide their own admission criteria.

See 'Types of school' to find out more about different types of school.

Find out about the criteria before you apply

It’s very important to find out what admissions criteria local schools use before you choose which schools to apply to.

Details of admissions criteria, along with figures showing the number of applications schools received the previous year, are listed in school prospectuses. This information is also available in the 'Information for Parents' booklet produced by your local authority.

Admissions criteria will vary from area to area and from school to school, but the School Admissions Code requires them to be clear, fair and objective. The code also has a list of admissions criteria that state-funded schools are not allowed to use.

Follow the links below to find out about school admissions criteria on your local authority's website, or ask your local authority to send you a copy of their booklet.

Objecting to unlawful admission arrangements

If you think that an admission authority has unlawful admission arrangements you can object to the Schools Adjudicator. Objections must be made between 1 May and 31 July regarding entry in September the following year.

You can make the objection yourself or contact your local authority School Admissions Team to object on your behalf. Information about what you can object to and the form you will need to complete are available on the Office of the Schools Adjudicator website.

Does your child meet the criteria?

If you are applying to a popular school, check how closely your child meets the criteria. Be realistic: it is possible that not everyone who applies will be offered a place.

The School Admissions Code says that children in public care must be given top priority. Examples of some other criteria that might be used are whether:

  • your child has a brother or sister who will be at the school when they start there
  • you live in the area served by the school
  • you or your child has a disability which makes travel to a distant school difficult
  • (for religious or faith schools), your child or family is of the particular religion or faith served by the school
  • (for secondary schools) your child attends a linked primary school
  • your home is close to the school

Admissions authorities might also use a system of random allocation or ‘banding’. Banding helps to ensure that a school has pupils with a range of different ability levels.

Certain types of school may apply other admission criteria:

  • church or faith schools may ask for confirmation of attendance at a relevant place of worship
  • grammar schools, and some other schools that select a proportion of their pupils on the basis of academic ability, award places on the basis of an entrance exam or selection test
  • schools that award a percentage of their places to pupils with an aptitude for certain subjects may use some form of assessment or audition where appropriate
  • boarding schools may interview your child to assess their suitability to be a boarder (interviewing is not allowed for admission into any other type of state-funded school)

If your child is in line for more than one of your chosen schools, you will be offered a place at the school you ranked highest on the application. If none of your chosen schools can offer your child a place because other applicants met the criteria more closely, your local authority will offer you a place at another school.

Submitting your application

For information on how to submit your application for a school place, together with details of key deadlines, see 'Apply for a school place'.

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