Applying for a school for your child at both primary and secondary stages can be a complicated and nerve wracking process. Parents and carers can have lots of questions about how everything works. When does the application need to be made? How are school places allocated? When will we hear which school our child has got into? What can we do if our child doesn’t get into their first choice school?
Here at School Guide we have the answers to these commonly asked questions and lots more information to help you negotiate the often fraught school application process.
Applications to state primary and secondary schools should be made through your local council. They should provide an admissions booklet that gives information about the process and details of local schools and their admissions policies.
You need to apply for a school place even if the pre-school or school your child is currently at is linked to a primary or secondary school as places aren’t automatically offered.
The date that applications open varies between local councils but all applications close on the following dates:
Primary school application deadline - 15th January 2024
Secondary school application deadline - 31st October 2023
These deadlines can come around very quickly, particularly the secondary school one. It is worth thinking about potential schools and possibly doing some school visits a year ahead, while your child is in year 5, to avoid it being a rushed decision at the start of year 6.
If you miss the deadline, you can still make an application, but you are less likely to get your first choice of school.
If you need to apply for a school place after the school year has already started, your local council will be able to let you know which schools still have places and how to apply.
Information on the school your child has been given a place at is sent out to parents by letter or e-mail on the following dates:
Primary places: 16th April 2024
Secondary Places: 1st March 2024
These dates are the same each year, unless they fall on a weekend or a bank holiday, in which case they are sent out on the next working day.
The dates are different for schools in Northern Ireland. Applications have to be made in January and offers are given in May.
You will usually be able to choose three or more schools in order of preference on the school admissions form. There will be space for you to give reasons for your choice of schools.
Listing just your first choice school for your child and leaving the other choices blank, won’t increase your child’s chances of getting into that school, so it’s advisable to list other schools.
If there is a place at your first choice school your child will be offered it. However, if the school is oversubscribed, the school will use a set of criteria to determine who gets the places. These criteria will vary depending on the school.
The highest priority will always be given to looked after children. Some schools also give priority to siblings, children of a particular faith or children who live in the catchment area of the school.
Even if you don’t get your first choice of school you will usually get another school on your list. If you don’t, you will be allocated to the nearest school to you that has places.
The school admission process is very different for schools in Scotland. In some areas councils automatically send out letters offering school places based on catchment area. In other areas you need to enrol with the local council but again the council allocates a school automatically. If you don’t want your child to attend the catchment school you can send a placing request for a different school. If the school has places the request will be approved. If it doesn’t you will need to apply for another school that does have places or accept the catchment school.
You will receive a letter or e-mail from your local council, telling you which school your child has been offered a place at. If they haven’t been given a place at one of the schools you had requested they will have been allocated to the nearest school to you which has places.
Once your child has been offered a place you will need to accept the offer by the deadline given, otherwise your offer will be withdrawn and the school place reallocated. Even if you aren’t happy with the school place offered, you are recommended to accept it to avoid your child ending up without a school place. Accepting a place doesn’t stop you appealing the decision or placing your child on the waiting list of your first choice school.
It can be really disappointing not to get your first choice of school for your child. This usually happens because your child doesn’t meet the admissions criteria or the school is oversubscribed. If this happens to you there are several things that you can do:
The good news is that the majority of children do get offered places at their chosen school and those who don’t usually go on to thrive at other schools.
School Guide has lots of information and advice to help you through this time. Use our site to find all all the information you need for the school application process including: