What is my catchment school?

Knowing your catchment school is an important step in working out which schools to apply to and whether your child is likely to get into their chosen primary or secondary school



Frustratingly, finding out catchment areas out can be very challenging and time consuming. The way they are calculated and what priority they are given in school admissions varies from school to school. To complicate things further, they can and often do change from year to year. 

Here we’ll answer your questions about school catchment areas and the other factors that affect admissions. School Guide also have lots of helpful tools that will help you work your catchment school and the likelihood that your child will be offered a place there. 


What is a catchment area? 

Every school has a maximum number of pupils that can be admitted each year. If more children apply, catchment areas and other factors are used to decide who to admit. A school catchment area is the geographical area around a school. Living in this area increases the chances of your child being offered a place at that school although other factors such as having siblings at the school can be more important. The closer you are to the school you are the greater priority you are given when places are allocated by catchment area. Our catchment hub tells parents everything they need to know when they ask, 'What is my catchment school?'


How are catchment areas measured?

It seems as if this should be straightforward, but there are four different ways catchment areas can be measured. They are:

  • Distance from the school as measured in a straight line – this is the definition used by most schools. It gives a circular catchment area around the school. 
  • Walking distance from the school – where the distance is measured along safe walking paths to the school. This is a less commonly used approach. 
  • Whether the school is the pupil’s nearest school. Children where this is the case will be given priority over children who are closer to a different school. 
  • Is the address in the priority admissions area if there is one. A priority admissions area is a defined neighbour close to the school. Children in this area will be given priority over children in other areas. This is mainly used in areas where there are several schools close together. 


Why do catchment areas change from year to year?

Each year catchment areas are usually defined by the greatest distance from the school that a previous pupil who was offered a place lived. However, catchment areas can change from year to year, depending on how many children apply to the school. 

There are several factors that might cause changes to the catchment area:

  • Lots of siblings in a particular year group
  • Another school opening in the area or changes to the number of classes in existing schools
  • Lots of new families moving into the area sometimes because of new developments
  • A change in the popularity of that school or nearby schools often as the result of Ofsted ratings


If we live in the catchment area will my child automatically get a place at the school? 

Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Each school has a different set of factors that they prioritise in a different order to determine admissions. For primary school the following children will usually be prioritised over children in the catchment area:

  • Children with special educational needs or medical needs 
  • Children who are being looked after by the local authority or who have previously been 
  • Siblings of children already at the school
  • Children of a particular religion – for faith schools only
  • Children whose parents work at the school

For secondary schools these children might be prioritised as well:

  • Children who attend a ‘feeder school’ – a local primary school that is affiliated to the secondary school
  • Children who have passed an entrance exam or similar – for academically selective schools such as grammar schools 

This means that even if you live within a school’s catchment area there is no guarantee that your child will be offered a place. Detailed information on the criteria that individual schools apply can be obtained from your local education authority and from the school directly. We would always recommend that you contact the admissions officer at any school that you are planning on applying to. 

Can I apply to a school outside my catchment area?

Yes you can. If the places haven’t already been filled by children from the priority groups or within the catchment area you might still be offered a place. For more information, read our helpful article How To Get Into A School Out Of Catchment Area


How can School Guide can help me to find my catchment school? 

You can use School Guide’s interactive school finder and catchment checker to find your catchment school. The results will be given in the form of a heat map which will show you how likely you are to get into the school. School Guide's interactive service helps you plot your home postcard on the school map to see live catchment areas. 

Where can I find more information on catchment areas?

For lots more information on school catchment areas and how School Guide can help, visit our dedicated catchment areas hub: Catchment Areas Explained