School Admissions

The Admissions Code

All children in England aged between five and 16 years of age are entitled to a free place at a state school. Parents have the right to have some say as to which schools their children attend, but there are laws dictating the terms of these choices. Different schools have admissions criteria depending on how they are run with independent and private schools being held to separate laws to the ones described below. This article will concentrate on state schools.

Admissions Process

The Schools Admissions Code is a legally binding code, so if a person believes that a school or local authority has not obeyed the rules, it is possible to refer the case to the local authority or the Schools Adjudicator.

The admissions process is managed by the local authority who will set the deadline for applications to schools. Then each school has its own admissions authority that sets admission arrangements annually and decides on the oversubscription criteria used to allocate places if there are more applications than places.

The School Admissions Code says what information a school can and cannot ask for when they are making a decision about applicants. They can ask for:

Information that will help them to process an application (e.g. proof of address)

Information about any other siblings already in attendance at the school

But they cannot ask for:

  • Personal details about you

  • Your child’s personal details

  • Money to support the school

  • Your efforts in supporting the school

Different types of school have different authorities in charge of admissions, even though all must follow the School Admissions Code.

  • Academies have a governing body to decide admissions

  • Foundation schools have a governing body to decide admissions

  • Voluntary-aided schools have a governing body to decide admissions

  • Community schools’ admissions are decided by the local authority

  • Voluntary-controlled schools’ admissions are decided by the local authority

Admission Authorities have to:

  • Admit all applicants as long as there is space for them

  • Prioritise children who are in the local authority’s care over all other children

  • Have a fair and unbiased tiebreaker system for when many children fit the same criteria (this may be distance between home and school or a random ballot, to give two examples)

  • Take into account all the schools listed in your application fairly against the schools’ oversubscription policies

But they cannot:

  • Interview applicants (children and their parents)

  • Only consider an application if the school in question is put as first preference

  • Take into consideration the behaviour of other people in the family, including any family members who are currently enrolled or those who have left the school previously

  • Withdraw an offer unless the application contains false information or if the place is given in error

  • Decide which applicants they accept based on reports from nurseries and previous schools

  • Unless there is an approved aptitude or banding system in operation, they cannot use tests to decide which applicants are admitted

  • Ask for photographs (except for identification purposes when a child must set a test in order to apply to a school)

  • Ask about parents’ marital status, criminal records, occupations, education, earnings or background

Information regarding where parents can find details of admission arrangements must be published in a local newspaper by May 1st for applicants starting in September the following year.

Making objections

Objections must be made within a specified time period, which will be named in the information published by the local authority. Objections will not affect applications.

To object you need to complete a form and return it to the Schools Adjudicator, who will try to make a decision within six weeks of receiving your form, or a person can contact the local authority’s School Admissions team who will refer your complaint on to the adjudicator.

The decisions reached by the Adjudicator are legally binding.

The Secretary of State handles objections regarding the admissions procedure of Academy schools.

Children with special educational needs

Children with special educational needs have different rights to those who do not. If a child needs specialist assistance, then the local authority will assess the child’s needs and name a school to cater for the child. If this is the case, the named school must give your child a place, even if the classes are full or even if the school year has already commenced.


Except in the case of grammar schools which admit children based on academic ability, schools must accept all applicants of there are enough places. However, some popular schools might get more applicants than there are places for. When this occurs, they must give the places to children according to their oversubscription criteria. These criteria may differ from one school to another, but below are some of the most common criteria used:

  • Siblings  children who already have brothers or sisters at the school may get priority.

  • Distance  priority may be given to children who live closest to the school.

  • Medical need  if a parent or child has a medical condition making travel to a more distant school difficult, this will often be taken into account.

  • Catchment area  schools may outline a catchment area that they prioritise. This catchment area may not be the same as distance form the school.

  • Random selection  sometimes a school will have a random ballot to allocate places.

  • Feeder schools  some secondary schools will name ‘feeder schools’ whose applicants they will prioritise

Faith schools

Faith schools can prioritise according to the faith of the children but they must be consistent in how they ask parents to demonstrate their faith.

Grammar Schools

Grammar schools can set tests to decide who is awarded a place and they can leave empty places when not enough children pass the admissions test.

Boarding schools

Boarding schools are allowed to assess children’s’ suitability for boarding and they must prioritise children in care first and then children who need to board.