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School places in England: applications, allocations and appeals

Published Monday, April 16, 2018

This briefing paper provides an overview of how places are allocated at state-funded mainstream schools in England. It covers appeals, and other options for parents and carers unhappy with their child's allocated school. Updated for primary national offer day in April 2018.

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School starting age

Children in England can take up a full-time school place in the Autumn term following their fourth birthday, but there is no requirement for them to be in 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.

The process - applying for a school place in the normal admissions round

For admission at normal points of entry (for example, entry into the first year of infant/ primary or secondary school) parents apply to their home local authority.

Choosing schools

Parents and carers in England can express preferences for particular schools; there’s no absolute right to choose a particular school, if that school is oversubscribed - i.e., it has more applicants than places available.

Where a school is under-subscribed (i.e., has fewer applicants than places available), any child applying during the normal admissions round must usually be offered a place, although there are some exceptions.

Options for parents or carers who don’t get the school place they wanted for their child

Parents who are refused a place for their child at a particular school have a right of 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 on school admissions

Local authorities, voluntary agencies and charities may be able to 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.

Oversubscription criteria

Where a school is oversubscribed, the school's admissions authority must rank applications against its published oversubscription criteria. The oversubscription criteria used must be "reasonable, clear, objective, procedurally fair, and comply with all relevant legislation, including equalities legislation" (para 1.8 of the school admissions code).

There's further information in the full PDF briefing about admission rules for:

  • Children automatically receiving the highest priority in admissions, for example, looked-after or previously-looked after children.
  • Children with a statement of special educational needs or an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) naming a particular mainstream school.
  • Faith schools.
  • Academically selective schools.

What criteria can't be used to allocate places?

Admissions authorities determine their own admissions criteria, but the School Admissions Code sets out certain things they cannot do. These include:

  • Adopting arrangements that directly or indirectly disadvantage children from particular social or racial groups, or children with disabilities or SENs.
  • Departing from the published admissions criteria (i.e., using their discretion to admit a child who'd not otherwise qualify for a place).
  • Taking into account the order of preference on the application form - i.e., giving a child lower priority simply because the parent had named the school third rather than first on the form.
  • Interviewing parents or children (with very limited exceptions).



Commons Briefing papers SN07147

Author: Nerys Roberts

Topic: Schools

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