Your guide to primary school admissions, including key dates, the application process, and what happens on national offer day…
Five minutes ago you were staring at those two lines on your pregnancy test. Now, here you are, planning which primary school you want your child to go to. How did that happen? Perhaps your son or daughter is due to start school next year, or perhaps it’s only been five minutes since you saw those blue lines. We’re not here to judge.
Our guide to primary school admissions will help you navigate the application process. If you’re starting from scratch, we’ll signpost you to the information you need to make an informed choice. If you’ve already got your heart set on a school but have no idea whether you’ll get in, our guide to school admissions criteria may be useful.
What age do children start school?
Children are expected to start in reception class the September after they turn four. So, for example, any child born between September 2016 and August 2017 would start school in September 2021. However, if you have a summer-born child, you have the option to defer your child’s place. Find out more about summer-born children.
Children aren’t actually legally required to attend school full time until the term after they turn five. This is called statutory school age. But if you want them to start in reception at this point, you have to request to delay their entry.
When should I start looking at primary schools?
You need to start looking at schools and making decisions the year before your child is due to start school. So, if they are due to start in September 2021, start thinking about it seriously in September / October 2020. This is when the online admissions systems start to re-open and you can make your application. The deadline to apply is 15 January 2021.
Schools hold their open mornings / prospective parents tours in the autumn term, so you’ll need to be arranging to see the schools you’re interested in between October and December. You can then drink mulled wine while mulling over your choices before the application deadline in the New Year. Although some like to apply before then and forget about it.
The date of your application has absolutely NO bearing on your chances of getting a place, as long as you apply by the deadline. So whether you hit submit on 1 September or 15 January, it won’t affect your likelihood of getting a place.
When do I need to apply for a primary school place?
In England, each council manages the primary school admissions process. This means that dates may differ depending on where you live so please check the specific admissions information for your local authority. Here are the key dates for 2021 admissions:
1 September 2020
Online admissions systems start to open for applications. That means that from September the year before your child is due to start school, you may be able to submit their primary school application. But don’t panic, you have until January before the application deadline. Some councils don’t open their admissions systems until October or November.
Councils also update the information on their websites in September or October for the following year’s admissions – so check in around this time to get the details. It usually contains information on each school and their contact details, how to apply, important dates and how places were allocated in previous years. Many have PDF booklets that you can download and read on the loo / train / in the bath.
September – December 2020
Schools do prospective parent tours in the Autumn term, so you need to call or email the offices of the ones you’re interested in to find out the dates and book yourself on. Some schools do tours during the school day, others have open evenings – it depends on each individual school. But they usually prefer you to book rather than randomly turn up.
15 January 2021
This is the deadline for applications. That means you’ve got time between September and January to change your mind on your preferred order of schools at least 300 times. But once this deadline has passed, there’s no going back.
January – April
THE. LONGEST. WAIT. EVER.
16 April 2021
National offer day is 16 April 2021. If you applied online, you’ll get an email at some point during that day with the outcome. Otherwise you’ll get a letter. Some councils release the data literally a minute after midnight on national offer day. Others keep you waiting all day until you literally can’t take it any longer and eventually get around to it that evening.
May to September 2021
Further offers are made from the waiting lists as and when vacancies come up. There can be a bit of movement in this time. The deadline to submit an appeal is usually in May too and these are generally heard in June and July.
Your child starts primary school. You take 100 photos, quietly weep and question whether life will ever be the same again. Then you go and get a coffee and marvel at the joy of drinking a cappuccino when there isn’t a hungry / tired / angry child hanging off your leg. Enjoy, you’ve earned it!
How do I apply for primary school?
This depends on where you live because, while they have to follow certain rules, each council has its own admissions process. The first thing to do is to find the relevant information for your local council. Their websites are notoriously like Bermuda triangles so instead, just google it for the direct link. For example, if you live in Enfield, google: Enfield school admissions.
Once you’ve landed on the right page, you’ll (hopefully) find all the info you need about where and how to apply. Remember they don’t update this information until September or October for the following year.
Most London councils use The Pan London eAdmissions System.
If this applies to you, you can create an account, apply and accept / reject places through this system. A little tip – on national offer day, the outcome is often available via this system before you get your email from the council, so if you’re on tenterhooks, it’s worth logging into the account throughout the day to see if the information has been updated.
Types of primary schools
If it wasn’t confusing enough, there are different types of primary schools.
The main types are:
1/ Community schools – state schools, controlled and run by the local authority, which have the same admissions criteria.
2/ Voluntary aided schools – religious or ‘faith’ schools which have their own admissions criteria and often give priority to church or faith members. You’ll most likely have to fill in a supplementary information form to go with your main application.
3/ Voluntary controlled schools – also religious schools but the local authority funds the school and usually controls the admissions process.
4/ Academies and free schools – publicly funded independent schools. They have their own admissions criteria although it may be the same as the local authority.
5/ Private schools – also known as independent schools, and charge fees to attend rather than being funded by the government. These are completely independent of the local authority and you have to apply to the school directly. The whole admissions process (and application deadlines) will be different.
The admissions criteria for schools is usually published in a booklet provided by your local council, which is updated each year. You should be able to find it on their website in the school admissions section. Schools also publish admissions criteria on their website.
The primary school application process
Once you’ve chosen the primary schools, it’s time to make your application. Remember that the admissions process varies by council so this is intended as a guide only. Check the website of the council where you live for the right information.
Apply to the local council where you live. If you want to apply to a school in a different borough, you list it on the same application. Your council will handle this application on your behalf. So, say, you live in the London Borough of Enfield but you want to apply to a school in Barnet, list the Barnet school on your main application form.
You will probably apply online using an admissions system like The Pan London eAdmissions System which the London boroughs use.
You’ll fill in all the basic info and then list your schools in order of preference, with number one being your favourite school. It’s strongly advised that you list as many as possible. Find out more about how school preferences work.
The council isn’t obliged to give you your first choice school or indeed any of the schools on your list. If you don’t meet the admissions criteria for any of the schools you write down (usually because too many other people live closer or you are up against Jesus’s great grandchild in the faith criteria) the council will offer you a place at another school where there are places available. This completely takes the choice out of your hands.
So make sure you’re realistic and that you list as many schools as possible. Try to list at least one school that your child is likely to get a place at. This might be because it’s not heavily oversubscribed. Or because you can see the school office from your bathroom window.
You may also be asked to upload additional documents to prove your child’s date of birth. Don’t forget to do this ahead of time otherwise it’ll be a super last minute panic the night before the admissions deadline (which is mid-January).
For some schools, particularly faith (voluntary aided) schools, you’ll need to complete a Supplementary Information Form (SIF). You can usually find and download this form from the school’s own website. Often they ask for a reference from your priest or minister. Without the SIF, you’re extremely unlikely to get a place.
You can usually log back into your account and make changes right up until the deadline in January. After that, you can no longer edit your application.
National offer day
On national offer day, you’ll find out what school your child has been given a place at. If you got your first choice, hurrah, well done you!
If you didn’t, don’t panic. Repeat, do NOT panic. Here are your options.
Many children have ended up at schools which weren’t one of the top preferences of their parents. And they have absolutely thrived. So consider whether it’s as bad as you think. The school may not be ideal in terms of location / journey / results / Ofsted but it could still be an excellent school where your child will be happy and make friends for life.
We wish your child all the best as they start this exciting new chapter of their lives.
Important note: Yes we know we’ve said it already but it’s really important to know that each local authority handles the admissions process for schools and so it can be different depending on where you live. And some non-community schools have their own rules too. This information is intended as a guide only. For information specific to you and your child, please check out the website of the council where you live. Ta.