Got your heart set on a primary school? Catchment area the size of a raisin? As much as you might like to slip the headteacher a hefty cheque and a cheeky wink, this is a bad idea. For MANY reasons. But the main one is that all primary schools have strict admissions criteria to decide which children get places.
These iron-clad rules are usually set by the local council although some schools set their own. This is particularly common in voluntary aided schools which apply faith criteria. Feeling godly all of a sudden, are we?
Admissions criteria varies depending on where you live and the school. You need to contact your local council to get the details on this. Many of them publish the information on their websites in a downloadable PDF booklet. They usually update this information around September / October time in preparation for the following year’s admissions.
If you live in London, you can find the direct link to the school admissions page for each borough here.
Top primary school admissions criteria
Schools usually give priority to children who:
- have Special Educational Needs (SEN)
- are being looked after by a local authority (ie in care)
- are the child of a member of staff
- have a sibling at the school already
- are from a particular religion (if it’s a faith school)
- live in a specified priority area
Once these criteria have been met, it usually comes down to distance – ie how far your child lives from the school. Distances may be measured by either a straight line from your home to the school (called as the crow flies) or walking distance.
If you enter your postcode and the postcode of the school you like into this website you’ll get a good idea of the straight line distance. But if you want to know the exact distance from your home to school, contact your local council’s school admissions department. For London families, our free London school catchment area map may be useful.
Oversubscription criteria only comes into play if there is more demand than there are places available. So if the school gets fewer applications than places available, then everyone will be offered a place regardless of where they live.
Admissions criteria in practice
Here’s an example of how the admissions criteria works, using Hazelwood Primary School in the London borough of Enfield:
- The school is a three-form entry and has 90 places available
- It received 306 applications for a reception place in 2019
- No children applied under the SEN / looked after / medical criteria
- 1 child was given priority because their parent is employed by the school
- 37 siblings were given priority
- 52 places went down to distance
- The furthest distance offered was 0.358 miles
- 71 applications were refused (and put on the waiting list)
- All other applicants got higher preference schools or withdrew their application
How can I find out school catchment areas?
Schools don’t really have fixed catchment areas. They work their way down the admissions criteria to determine places, with it coming down to distance if they get more applications than places available. This means that it changes each year.
Some schools have specified priority areas, which means that children who live in this area get priority when applying. But even then there’s no guarantee if the school gets more applications than places available as they can’t go over the maximum class size of 30.
Your local council will publish information on the furthest distance offered in their ‘applying to primary school’ booklets, available on their websites. Some only provide this information for oversubscribed community schools. Others provide it for all schools in their area. If you live in London, you can use our free primary school catchment map.
Do infant school pupils get priority at junior school?
If the infant school is a feeder school for a particular junior school, then yes. But you may still need to apply for a place anyway so make sure you know if / when you need to do this.
Do children in nursery at the school get priority for reception?
Check with the school but in most cases the answer is no. So don’t assume that just because your child is in the nursery at a primary school that they’re guaranteed a place in reception. You’ll have to apply for a place along with everyone else. We know of families whose children attended the nursery and then didn’t get a place in reception.
What about faith schools?
Faith schools (voluntary aided) are allowed to give preference in their admissions criteria to families of a particular faith or denomination. When applying for these schools, you’ll need to complete a Supplementary Information Form to demonstrate that you practice this faith. Check the school’s website for more information on their admissions policy.
Don’t think you can rock up to church a week before the application deadline and get in on faith criteria. Many faith schools are extremely popular and can be heavily oversubscribed, with many families applying who have been attending church for years.