This note provides an overview of how places are allocated at state-funded mainstream schools in England, and how parents apply for places for their children.Jump to full report >>
This note provides information on admission to mainstream state-funded schools in England. Different arrangements apply in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. It covers the legislative framework, school application processes in general terms, and some common questions.
School starting age
Children in England can take up a full-time school place in a reception class in the September following their fourth birthday, but there is no requirement for them to be in full-time education until the start of the school term following their fifth birthday.
Many children start secondary school in the September following their eleventh birthday, but in some areas state-funded schooling is arranged differently, with intakes and transfers at different ages.
Parents and carers in England can express preferences for particular schools; there’s no absolute right to choose a particular school, but if a school is undersubscribed – i.e., has fewer applicants than there are places available - any child that applies must usually be offered a place.
No automatic allocation of school places
School places are not automatically allocated in England, even when children are attending an attached pre-school or ‘feeder’ school, or have older siblings already attending school. Parents or carers need to apply for a place.
Options for parents who don’t get the school place they wanted
Parents who are refused a place at a particular school have a right to appeal. Other options include remaining on waiting lists, joining the waiting lists of schools not originally applied for, or arranging other provision – e.g., home schooling.
Support and information for parents
Local authorities, voluntary agencies and charities can provide advice and guidance to parents about applying for state-funded schools.
There can be differences in admission processes and the criteria used from school to school and area to area; this note is intended as a general guide only and parents should consult their home local authority for local information.
Commons Briefing papers SN07147
Authors: Nerys Roberts; Paul Bolton