School applications process

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At a glance

Tips to guide you through the school applications process and keep anxiety in check.

Be prepared

Many parents can become anxious around the time of school applications especially if there’s lots of choice and competition for the most sought-after schools in their area.

Learning as much as you can about the process of school applications will help you feel more confident and will arm you with the knowledge you’ll need to calmly steer your way through what can seem like a confusing and complex process.

Get advice

There are various people you can talk to if you need advice. Your local authority will have advisers in its education department. If your child is moving from nursery to primary school, or from primary to secondary, the head teacher of their current school will be able to help.

Talk to other parents but try to avoid being panicked by their stories. Do your own research – look at school websites, Ofsted inspection reports, and phone the schools if you have specific questions. It’s better to take control of the situation rather than relying on second-hand information and playground gossip. The other parents may have got their facts wrong.

Read the oversubscription criteria

The area that can cause the most confusion and stress is the admissions policy for each school. Many popular schools will be oversubscribed - they will receive more applications than they have places. They use oversubscription criteria to decide which children will be offered places. Make sure you read and understand the criteria.

If your main concern is whether or not you are in a school’s catchment area, the best thing to do is to phone the school and ask them to clarify their catchment area criteria.

If it is a primary, they will often send or email you a list of roads which fall within the catchment for that school. If it is a secondary, the catchment will usually cover a wider area. But, in general, the nearer your child lives to the school of your choice, the higher your child’s chance of getting into that school.

See our separate guide ‘How to apply for a school place' for a more detailed explanation of admissions criteria.

Be open-minded

Many parents have strong views on which school would be best for their child. Try to be open-minded and avoid feeling that there’s only one possible option for your child. Other schools may be better than you think – all schools have strengths as well as weaknesses.

You’ll usually need to apply to more than one school (possibly up to six), so try to be as positive as you can about all of them. Face the fact that you may be offered a place at a school that isn’t your first choice.

Remember that your child will find the process of applying to schools stressful too (especially at Year 6 stage). You’ll increase their stress if you talk a lot about how worried you are. And if you express negative feelings about a school, you’ll make life more difficult for both of you if your child eventually attends that school.

Plan of action

Finally, work out a plan of action in case your child doesn’t get a place at your preferred school.

Many children get school places from waiting lists after the initial allocation of places. If this happens to you, find out from your preferred school where your child is on the waiting list and estimate their chance of getting in.

If you’re not happy with the school place your child has been offered, then you have the right to appeal to an independent appeal panel. For guidance on deciding whether you want to go ahead and make an appeal, take a look at How to appeal against a school place decision.

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