You must apply through your local authority for a place at a secondary school, even if it’s linked to your child’s current primary school. Normal secondary school admissions are at 11+ into year 7. Applications open on different days in each local council area - usually at the start of the autumn term of year 6, though for most grammar schools you will need to register for the entrance test during the summer term of year 5.
The deadline to apply for a secondary school place is 31 October. Check your local authority website for details of the catchment area for secondary schools nearby, faith requirements and key dates. Even if you are trying for a faith or grammar school, or for a school in another area, apply through your local authority’s common application form.
In the case of selective and faith schools, you will also need to apply to the individual school, either to register for entrance tests or provide evidence of church attendance. Read carefully what is required with your submission. Some schools – particularly faith schools – require a supplementary information form (SIF) to be sent directly to them. This form usually has a different deadline to the application which goes to the local authority. Failing to supply the right information on time could jeopardise your chances.
Most local authorities ask for a list of three or four schools in order of preference. London requests six. Only the local authority knows which schools you have applied to, and if you qualify for more than one, will only offer you a place at the one highest on your list. Try to ensure you include one that you are more-or-less bound to get a place at, even if it is low on the list: if you don’t qualify for any of the schools you have applied to, you are likely to be offered St Grunt’s two bus rides away. Never leave blanks on the form. While some parents think that it limits the local authority to fewer options, in reality they will fill in the blanks with other schools, which will inevitably be the least popular ones.
If you want to join a school outside the normal admissions time – perhaps because you are moving house – then in most cases you apply direct to the school, though local authorities can have helpful information of which local schools have spaces. Bear in mind that if you are arriving from abroad, you cannot apply for a school until you have a local address, and if a place is offered, you have to take it up within a short time.
All school admissions in England are regulated by the Schools Admissions Code, and schools must play fair, ensuring their admissions policy is not only fair but also transparent. Parents must play fair too: schools and local authorities are wising up on parental attempts to circumvent the code, and hundreds of school places are withdrawn every year, sometimes after the child has started school.
Different types of secondary schools
Grammar schools. These select pupils based on ability. Even if there are insufficient applicants who reach the required standard the school does not have to allow other applicants entry, nor does it have to admit looked after children who do not pass selection. Where places are offered on strict points order, no priority needs to be given to looked after children or previously looked after children – although increasing numbers of grammar schools are choosing to do so. If arrangements are not based on highest scores in a selection test, eg all children who pass the selection test are considered, the admission authority must give priority to all looked after children and previously looked after children who meet the pre-set standards of the test. Many are also reserving a proportion of places for children on pupil premium. Some grammar schools, the so-called ‘super selectives’, have no distance criteria, so anyone can apply, but increasing numbers are giving preference to local applicants.
State grammar schools now set their entrance tests early in the autumn term, so parents will know whether their child has done well enough to qualify for a place (although not whether they have actually got a place) before they put in their secondary schools application form.
Aptitude/talent. A number of secondary schools select part of their intake by aptitude (eg for music, sport or technology).
Fair banding. An increasing number of non-selective schools set tests and divide their applicants into ability bands, taking an equal number from each band. In theory, this ensures that the school takes children from the full spread of ability. In practice, if schools set and/or mark their own tests, they can organise the banding so that they accept a high percentage of able children.
Faith schools. These may demand that you baptised your child before she was 6 months old and have attended a specific church weekly for the past five years. They are no longer allowed to give points for brass polishing and flower arranging, felt to advantage middle class applicants.
Academies and free schools. These are state-funded schools independent of local authorities, and are required to comply with the Admissions Code, though they can decide on their own admissions criteria, and some have been known to designate their catchment to prioritise middle class areas.
Ballots. Some schools use these to offer some places, but they are not allowed as the main oversubscription criterion.
Secondary school admissions priorities
Most state secondary schools have admissions priorities as follows:
- Statement of special education need or education, health and social care plan naming the school. These children come first in line and must be given a place.
- Looked after/previously looked after children. These generally come next.
- Siblings. These often, but not always, third. Check carefully before you move miles away after your first-born has got a place.
- Exceptional medical or social need. This generally involves a letter from a doctor or social worker explaining why St Cake’s is the only school that will cope with your child’s needs. Very few children get a place by this route.
- Distance. Generally as the crow flies, but sometimes by the shortest walking route, Sometimes faith schools designate parishes, and other schools may designate particular areas as their catchment. Increasing numbers of grammar schools are limiting the distance applicants may travel to school. Your local authority should have information on how close you probably have to live to any individual school (except faith schools) to be in with a chance of a place
Before filling in your application form, study the admissions criteria of any school you like the look of. They may be placed in a different order, or there may be different categories. If you do not meet one of the first few criteria bands of the school you apply for, you are most unlikely to get a place and the local authority will allocate a school instead (which will inevitably be an unpopular and undersubscribed school). After all, local authorities have a duty only to provide a place at a school, not at a school of your choosing.
Joining year 12
Those already in a school may not need to apply formally for places in year 12, but admissions criteria must be the same for both internal and external applicants and should detail any entry requirements eg the number and quality of GCSE passes for various different courses.
Can an offer of a place be withdrawn?
Yes. Once an offer of a school place has been made (1 March for secondary 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 school you are offered?
If you are offered a school you have not chosen, you are invited to appeal and informed of your rights. See Secondary school appeals.
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 till you have an address in the country and are living here (except for Forces/diplomatic families and for those applying to state boarding schools).
Secondary schools are not allowed to:
- Take ability into account, unless they are selective/partially selective schools, or for banding purposes. Performing arts/sport/language places must be given on the basis of aptitude for a subject, rather than ability gained by previous experience. NB In our experience this tends to amount to the same thing – and often to favour higher ability children.
- Ask for details about disabilities, special educational needs or medical conditions, unless in support of positive action.
- Insist on a home-school agreement being signed as a condition of admission.
- Make any charges in relation to admission, expect ‘voluntary’ contributions, or charge for school trips that are part of the curriculum, and during the school day. Other trips must not be compulsory, and schools should make clear any help available for those unable to afford the cost.
- Specify expensive uniform or sportswear.
- Take into account parental occupation, marital status or financial status.
- Interview children or families, except for interviews to determine the suitability to board or to discuss potential courses with sixth form applicants.
- Refuse to admit a child where the school is listed on their SEN statement or EHC plan.