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October 31st is the date for parents to submit their state secondary school applications to the local authority. A great deal of agonising and soul-searching has been taking place in households across England in the run-up to the deadline but what exactly is the best way to select which schools to put down and how can you avoid the pitfalls which hinder families every year?

The Good Schools Guide has been helping parents choose the right schools for their children for more than thirty years and we advise the following:

  • Try not to be baffled by the terminology. Some parts of the country have grammar schools which require applicants to sit the eleven plus entry exam but generally, state-funded academies, free schools, comprehensives and high schools are usually non-selective. And although some have places reserved for children with specific aptitudes, all provide the standard secondary education.
  • Researching the options will pay off. You can find links to OFSTED reports of your local schools from The Good Schools Guide – click for our school search – but all secondary schools in your area will be listed on the local authority’s website. To get a better feel for a particular school, visit its website. You will be able to read about subjects, facilities and extra-curricular opportunities, download a prospectus and maybe have a virtual tour. Of course, nothing beats actually visiting a school, so it is worth seeing if they have any open events in the days leading up to the application deadline
  • Parents know best what their child is like. What direction might they go in and which GCSEs or A levels might they select a few years down the line? Some families are fortunate to live in areas where there are schools which specialise in sport, the arts or science and technology. Finding a school which appeals to your child’s skills and interests can encourage them to work harder.
  • Find a school’s admissions criteria on its or the local authority’s website. If your child doesn’t fit the admissions criteria and the school is over-subscribed year on year, then look elsewhere. Faith schools are often popular with parents but many prioritise children who have been baptised and are from church-going families. If you are not in catchment, and the school is always oversubscribed, you have little chance of a place.
  • Parents are not selecting a school but rather listing ones they find acceptable. Most local authorities ask for a list of three or four schools in order of preference. London requests six. The Good Schools Guide advises parents to include at least one school which they would find acceptable where there is a strong chance of getting a place – even if it isn’t their ideal school. Otherwise, there is the risk of getting a place at an undesirable school some distance away
  • It is not wise to leave blanks on the form. Not filling in a space intended for a school choice does not mean that you are limiting the local authority to fewer options. It means they will fill in the blanks with other schools, which will inevitably be the least popular ones.
  • 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

The Good Schools Guide Education Consultants now offers a specific service for parents who want advice on state school places: visit State School Service.

Further reading

State 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. read more


Local Authorities in England (excluding London)

Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council | Bedford Council | Birmingham City Council | Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council | Blackpool Council | Bolton Council | Bournemouth Borough Council | Bracknell Forest Council | Bradford Metropolitan District Council | Brighton and Hove City Council | Bristol City Council | Buckinghamshire County Council | Bury Metropolitan Borough Council | Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council | Cambridgeshire County Council | Central Bedfordshire Council | Cheshire East Council | Cheshire West and Chester Council | City and County of Swansea Council | City of York Council | Cornwall Council | Coventry City Council | Cumbria County Council | Darlington Borough Council | Derby City Council | Derbyshire County Council | Devon County Council | Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council | Dorset County Council | Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council | Durham County Council | East Riding of Yorkshire Council | East Sussex County Council | Essex County Council | Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council | Gloucestershire County Council | Halton Borough Council | Hampshire County Council | Hartlepool Borough Council | Herefordshire County Council | Hertfordshire County Council | Hull City Council | Isle of Man Council | Isle of Wight Council | Isles of Scilly Council | Kent County Council | Kirklees Council | Knowsley County Council | Lancashire County Council | Leeds City Council | Leicester City Council | Leicestershire County Council | Lincolnshire County Council | Liverpool City Council | Luton Borough Council | Manchester City Council | Medway Council | Middlesbrough Borough Council | Milton Keynes Council | Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council | Newcastle-upon-Tyne City Council | Newport City Council | Norfolk County Council | North East Lincolnshire Council | North Lanarkshire Council | North Lincolnshire Council | North Somerset Council | North Tyneside Council | North Yorkshire County Council | Northamptonshire County Council | Northumberland Council | Nottingham City Council | Nottinghamshire County Council | Oldham Council | Oxford City Council | Peterborough City Council | Plymouth City Council | Portsmouth City Council | Reading Borough Council | Redcar and Cleveland Council | Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council | Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council | Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead Council | Rutland County Council | Salford City Council | Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council | Sefton Council | Sheffield City Council | Shropshire Council | Slough Borough Council | Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council | Somerset County Council | South Gloucestershire Council | South Tyneside Council | Southampton City Council | Southend-on-Sea Borough Council | St Helens Council | Staffordshire County Council | Stockport Council | Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council | Stoke-on-Trent City Council | Suffolk County Council | Sunderland City Council | Surrey County Council | Swindon Borough Council | Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council | Telford and Wrekin Council | The Borough of Poole Council | Thurrock Council | Torbay Council | Trafford Metropolitan Borough Council | Wakefield Metropolitan District Council | Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council | Warrington Borough Council | Warwickshire Council | West Berkshire Council | West Sussex County Council | Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council | Wiltshire Council | Wirral Council | Wokingham Borough Council | Wolverhampton City Council | Worcestershire County Council

Local Authorities in London

City of London | London Borough of Barking and Dagenham | London Borough of Barnet | London Borough of Bexley | London Borough of Brent | London Borough of Bromley | London Borough of Camden | London Borough of Croydon | London Borough of Ealing | London Borough of Enfield | London Borough of Hackney | London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham | London Borough of Haringey | London Borough of Harrow | London Borough of Havering | London Borough of Hillingdon | London Borough of Hounslow | London Borough of Islington | London Borough of Lambeth | London Borough of Lewisham | London Borough of Merton | London Borough of Newham | London Borough of Redbridge | London Borough of Richmond upon Thames | London Borough of Southwark | London Borough of Sutton | London Borough of Tower Hamlets | London Borough of Waltham Forest | London Borough of Wandsworth | Royal Borough of Greenwich Council | Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council | Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames Council | Westminster City Council

Local Authorities in Scotland

Aberdeen City Council | Aberdeenshire Council | Angus Council | Argyll and Bute Council | Dumfries and Galloway Council | Dundee City Council | East Ayrshire Council | East Dunbartonshire Council | East Lothian Council | East Renfrewshire Council | Eilean Siar Council | Falkirk Council | Fife Council | Flintshire County Council | Glasgow City Council | Inverclyde Council | Midlothian Council | Moray Council | North Ayrshire Council | Orkney Islands Council | Perth and Kinross Council | Renfrewshire Council | Scottish Borders Council | Shetland Islands Council | South Ayrshire Council | South Lanarkshire Council | Stirling Council | The City of Edinburgh Council | The Highland Council | West Dunbartonshire Council | West Lothian Council

Local Authorities in Wales

Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council | Bridgend County Borough Council | Caerphilly County Borough Council | Cardiff Council | Carmarthenshire County Council | Ceredigion County Council | Clackmannanshire Council | Conwy County Borough Council | Denbighshire County Council | Gwynedd County Council | Isle of Anglesey County Council | Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council | Monmouthshire County Council | Pembrokeshire County Council | Powys County Council | Rhondda Council | Torfaen County Borough Council | Vale of Glamorgan Council | Wrexham County Borough Council

Local Authorities in N.Ireland

Belfast Education Authority | North Eastern ELB | South Eastern ELB | Southern ELB | Western ELB

Local Authorities (other)

Guernsey Council | Jersey Council

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