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Click for advice on primary school appeals

You've looked at maps, read Ofsted reports, spoken to other parents and read The Good Schools Guide review. And finally, you've decided which primary school will best suit your child and family. What next?

This is where it can get technical. You must apply through your local authority for a place at a primary school, even if the school is linked to your child’s current nursery. Normal primary school admissions are at 4+ into the reception class. The applications window opens on different days in each local council area - usually at the start of the autumn term of the year before your child is due to start school. Check your local authority website for details of the catchment area for primary schools nearby, faith requirements and key dates.

The deadline to apply for a primary school place is 15 January. If you’re applying for an 'in-year' school place, (eg if you're changing school at a time which is not the start of the school year), contact the council directly.

Depending on the area you live in you can list up to six choices of primary school, and it’s vital to include at least one 'safe bet': a school where you are more-or-less sure of getting a place – even if it isn’t your first choice. 

Put your school choices in order of preference – if more than one of your choices is able to offer you a place, you will only be offered the school highest on your list. The schools don’t know where else you have applied, and don’t know if you have put them first or last – only the local authority knows that.


Before filling in your application form, study the admissions criteria of the schools you like the look of. In most parts of the country, if you do not meet one of the first few criteria bands, you are unlikely to get a place. Schools will outline the order in which they will select children for a place, and a typical set might be:

  1. Looked after children
  2. Children with special needs that can only be met by that school
  3. Children with siblings already in the school
  4. Children who live closest to the school (which can, in many areas, mean more-or-less spitting distance, especially if there are lots of siblings taking preference).

They may be placed in a different order or there may be different categories such as faith requirements. The important thing to remember is that they will vary between schools, and it is crucial to know how you will fare at that particular school.

While no state primary school selects by ability or aptitude (except the London Oratory Junior House, which tests all applicants for general academic ability and musical aptitude), faith schools mostly give preference to children from religious families and you will need to complete a supplementary information form (SIF) which will ask for details of your family’s religious adherence as well as providing further paperwork like baptismal certificate.

It is therefore essential to include on your list those schools where you stand a good chance of meeting the admissions criteria. If you ignore this aspect of the application and instead you rank only those you most like, you may well get a place at none of them, and the local authority will allocate you a place at an undersubscribed school which will inevitably be an unpopular and possible some distance from where you live.

Your local authority’s admissions guide (usually available to download) explains how to apply and lists the admissions criteria for schools in your area. Information from previous years is also published, such as whether schools were oversubscribed, how places were allocated and the distance children admitted previously live from the school. If applicable, catchment area maps will also be included. The Good Schools Guide website contains maps for each school based on where pupils have been admitted from in recent years. This will help you get an idea of how likely you are to get a place.

Can an offer of a place be withdrawn? 

Yes. Once an offer of a school place has been made (mid-April for primary schools) it may be withdrawn in certain circumstances such as:

  • Failing to respond to an offer within a reasonable time.
  • Making an intentionally misleading or fraudulent application (eg falsely claiming to live in a catchment area: even if the child has started at the school, they may be asked to leave).
  • Where a place was offered in error: but the local authority has only a very short space of time to withdraw the offer in this case.

Can you appeal if you don’t want the primary school you are offered?

If you are offered a school which is not your prefered choice, you will be invited to appeal and informed of your rights. In the vast majority of cases, there will be little chance of an appeal succeeding but read Primary School appeals for more information.

Children from overseas

As long as you have a right of abode in England, you can apply for a state school place here. However, you can’t apply until you have an address in the country and are living here (except for Forces/diplomatic families and for those applying to state boarding schools). See: School admissions and applications from overseas children.

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