Choosing a Secondary School

by ParentalChoice
in schools, Children
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shutterstock_143874328_148x148If you have a child who is due to transfer to secondary school in 2018 or later it is likely that you are already thinking about which school you would like them to attend. This article will guide you through the admissions process for state schools and give you some points of thought to consider.

There are lots of different types of schools now and parents can find it confusing.  It used to be that all state schools were maintained by the Local Authority (LA). Many still are and this simply means that they receive their funding through the LA and that the LA provides central services and support and sets things such as tem dates.

A large number of schools however have converted to become academies. This essentially means that they have stepped out from under the LA’s umbrella and that they receive their funding from central government and manage themselves. They are also free to set their own term dates although most fit in with the traditional school calendar.

The other type of school that has been heavily featured in the media recently are free schools. These are essentially academy schools that have been created from scratch where a need has been identified. The media will have you think that anyone can set up a free school and although anyone can apply they must go through a strict application process to achieve school status and funding. Some of these schools are religious, some specialist and many are just normal schools.

Whichever option you chose all of these types of schools are held to the same standards and aren’t really all that different in their day to day education provision. It’s about how effective they are, not how they are funded and managed.


If you are considering private school options this information will not bear relevance as each school handles their own admissions process and is not required to adhere to the same timetable as state schools. You should contact each of your preferred schools directly and work from there.

First of all let’s bust a couple of myths:

“I live in the “catchment area”. It’s likely that a lot of other children to do too and if the school is popular it will be over subscribed. The school will use a number of factors to determine admission and proximity is only one of them and it’s not always at the top of the list. Just because you live close to the school it doesn’t guarantee you a place.

“My child is on the waiting list for the local school”. There is no such thing. Admission applications for state schools can only be made during the application period for that years intake but more about that later.

The only thing that can be guaranteed when applying for a school place is that there are no guarantees. You need to do your homework, understand the process and criteria and make sensible choices.

Here’s how you do it.

The first thing you need to understand is how admissions are managed in your area. Almost all state schools manage their admissions through the admissions department of the local authority. There are a few exceptions, some religious or free schools, but they are rare. The schools website will tell you where you must apply to, the local authority or direct to them.

Every local authority will have a comprehensive guide on their website which includes process and dates. Whilst there may be some minor anomalies in different areas for the most part the guidelines will be the same.

The main point of application in the senior school system is Year 7.

There is a set timeline as shown below, using the academic year 2017/18 as an example:

Applications Open                           Mid August 2017

Applications Close                          End October 2017

National Offer day                           Early March 2018

Appeals Process                              Dates TBA on offer day

School Starts                                    September 2018

If you wish to make an application at any other point during your child’s school career this is known as “mid year entry” (even if it is for a September start) and you must contact your local authority directly for guidance.

Whilst you can do paper applications by far the quickest and easiest way is to utilise the online system that your LA will provide. You will also know what places you have been offered earlier this way.

Prior to the application window opening you will need to have spent some time researching your local schools and attending open evenings to decide which you are interested in.

At all schools priority is given to children who are in the care of the local authority and then to those who can demonstrate a specific social, emotional or educational need to attend a particular school. From there some of the criteria that are used include (but are not limited to) linked primary schools, siblings, distance, religious affiliation and many others. Each school will apply these in different ways. Many popular schools now use a fair banding system to ensure pupils of all abilities get a chance and some even operate a lottery system. It is vital that you take the time to understand the admissions criteria that each school will use when offering places.

Depending on where you live you will be asked to select three or four preferences. The popularity of a school may affect your chance of being offered a place so it is important that your preferences include at least one, if not more, schools where your child meets one of the higher admission criteria. If you are low down the criteria list on all your preferences you run the risk of not being offered any of your choices and being allocated a place at a school you don’t want. This is known as a mandatory offer and is made to reduce the likelihood of children being left without any school place but it may not be in your catchment area. Be sensible with your choices.

If you are not happy with the school place that you have been offered you have the right of appeal. Details on how to appeal will be sent out with your offer letter and you must take action within the timeframe specified.

At any point in the process you may be asked to prove any information you stated during the application process whether this is place of residence, special educational needs, religious affiliation or family structure if claiming sibling status. This is known as supporting information.

It is important that you formally accept an offer from a school if you are going to take it as it may be withdrawn after 14 days if you don’t. This doesn’t affect your right to appeal at schools you like better than the one offered but it does ensure you at least have a place even if it is not the one you want.

In 2011, nationally 84.6% of children got into their first choice of school with 95.6% being offered one of their three preferences.

The geographical area that you live in plays a large part in how likely you are to get into your first choice school but doing your research and being prepared will help you through the process not to mention an element of luck!


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