Starting school is a big step for parent and child. Before you get to drop them off on their first day in uniform, there are some important decisions to make about primary school places (and of course some forms to fill in!) 

We’ve put together a guide to support you through the process. From when placements are announced to understanding your options if you don’t get your first choice of primary school. We’re here to offer a helping hand along the way. 

Primary school admissions timetable

Are you applying for your child to start primary, infant or junior school in September 2024? These are the dates you need to know.

  • September - Applications open for students starting primary, infant or junior school the following September

  • 15th January - Closing date for all applications at 11.59pm

  • 16th April - Offer day – if you applied online or supplied your email address you will receive your school offer by email. If you don’t have an email address, offers will be sent out by post. You must accept or decline your school place by the deadline given.

  • May - Appeals closing dates. Check the closing dates for appeals in your borough.

  • May onwards- Late applications are processed and offers made. Waiting lists are established and places offered if they become available.

  • May – August - Appeals hearings

  • September - School year starts.

2 girls colouring together in school

How are primary school places allocated?

The allocation of school places can differ by school and by the area that you live, use the Government school admissions guide for the most accurate information about your local area.

Many schools will prioritise giving a place based on these specific criteria. These are some of the most common:

  1. Looked after children/ previously looked after children

  2. Exceptional social/ medical need – for example if your child has a special educational need identified in a Education and Health Care Plan (EHCP).

  3. Children of staff

  4. Siblings

  5. Nearest school

  6. Others by distance

However there can be changes to this. For example, a Junior school might give preference to children attending a particular infant school (known as a feeder school). A church school’s criteria might be based on the family’s faith.

Every school must publish their admission criteria on their website and most councils will combine all the school information into one handy guide so that you can review all the options in one place.


Primary school reception places

The council website will tell you how many reception year places each school in your area has available this year and under what criteria children have been offered a place in previous years. This is a good indicator to judge whether you will likely gain a place at this school.

Search for ‘school admissions’ on your council website.

When to apply for a primary school place

The closing date to apply for a primary school place is the same date nationwide. It’s in the middle of January. This year the closing date was 15th January 2024. Make sure you get your application in by this date.

How to apply for a primary school place

Your council will provide you with information in the autumn before your child is due to start school. The easiest way is to apply online. You will need to decide which schools you want to apply for and then complete an online application form. 

Some primary schools, such as faith schools, require you to fill in a Supplementary Information Form (SIF) as well as the Local Authority application form. These have to be returned directly to the school, so make sure you find out if you need to complete a SIF otherwise your child may miss out on a place that they would have been entitled to.

Researching primary schools

Here’s some top tips for researching your school options.

From home you can:

  • Find schools in your area– your council will have a directory of local schools or a school map online for you to use. 

  • Find out the basic details for each school from their website. A school website will include:

– admission arrangements, including how to apply – details of the curriculum – behaviour policy – links to Ofsted reports – links to performance data – the school’s latest key stage 2 and 4 attainment and progress measures – their policies for children with special educational needs and disabilities– the amount of money they get for taking underprivileged children (the ‘pupil premium’), what they do with it and the effect it’s had

  • Read the school’s most recent Ofsted reports

  • Check school performance tables.

  • Read the school’s recent newsletters.

  • Check how many places they are offering (this is known as the published admissions number or PAN) and also how many people applied and were offered a place last year on the school’s website. This will give you an idea of how oversubscribed the school might be.

  • Check their admission criteria (how they allocate places) on the school’s website and consider how this may affect your chances of being offered a place.

Be sure to visit the school if you're able. This is the best way to get a feel for the unique ethos of the school and it’s leadership. Schools will have published open days but you can also contact them directly to arrange a time for you and your child to have a look around. 

How many primary schools can you apply for?

The number of schools you can apply for will vary depending on where you live. Often it’s between 4-6 schools. It makes sense to use all your choices: if you only list one or two schools and don’t get a place, you may end up being offered a school that you didn’t want or one that’s further away from home. 

Do primary schools have catchment areas?

Primary schools have areas where most children who attend the school live. These are a good indicator of how likely you are to get a school place. However, there is no defined area or line inside which you need to live in order to be offered a place. Catchment areas change each year depending on the number of siblings offered places, children with special medical or social needs and the density of children living in close proximity to the school.

Are you guaranteed a place in the catchment area?

No, sadly there are no guarantees to gaining a school place based on your location. 

This is something you need to know:

Parents have a right to express a preference for the school they want their child to attend, but do not have a right for their child to attend that particular school.

This can be really difficult to accept if your heart is set on a specific school. However, don’t lose heart – 9 out of 10 families got their first choice of school last year so there’s a strong possibility that you will too.

How do you find out your catchment area?

Check with your local authority website for the most recent admission figures including whether a school has been oversubscribed. Some local authorities publish a rough guide to catchment areas too.

Contact the person responsible for admissions at your preferred school as they will be best placed to advise on local trends such as bulges in sibling applications.  

Finding available primary school places

Your local council will have a list of available school places if you are applying outside of the normal time to apply.

Primary school children sat on the floor for assembly

When are primary school places announced?

Offer day is usually mid April. You will be contacted by email or post to confirm the school that your child has been offered.

What to do when you receive your school offer

You will need to accept or decline your place by a specified date in May. This date will be given to you when your child is offered a place.

Can a school turn down a student?

The only time a school can lawfully refuse a place to a student if they have a space, is if the child is “considered to exhibit challenging behaviour” and the school has a disproportionate number of students on roll with challenging behaviour. 

My child has no primary school place – what do I do?

By law, your local council has to find your child a school place by the time your child turns five. This won’t necessarily be in your immediate area – the council will offer you a place at the nearest school to your home address with places remaining, but this may be in a neighbouring location. Local authorities must try to offer you a place before the start of the September term, but the wait could be longer if there aren’t places available.

I haven’t been offered my first choice in primary school. What should I do?

90% of pupils were offered their first primary school choice last year. There’s a high probability that you will get the place that you are after. However, with school places in high demand, increased housing and fluctuations in local population it isn’t guaranteed. 

There are over 20,000 primary schools in the UK and 86% of them have been rated good or outstanding by Ofsted. There is a strong likelihood that you will be allocated a good school in your local area for your child to attend. It might not have been your first choice or in the best location for you. It’s good to prepare yourself for this event.

  • Find out about the school that you have been allocated

  • Arrange a visit

  • Discuss any concerns you have directly with the head

  • Speak to parents with children attending the school to understand their experience of it

If you decide that the school you have been allocated really isn’t right for you and your child you can:

  • Ask to be put on the waiting list for your preferred school. You can put your child on as many waiting lists as you want.

  • Find out where you are on the waiting list. Remember places will normally only become available should a family move out of the area or transfer to a different school. Waiting lists can remain static for sometime.

  • Accept the school place you have been offered- we recommend this even if it isn’t the school you ultimately want your child to attend. This is to ensure that your child has a place to go to school in September.

  • Consider making an appeal.

Child playing hopskotch in the playground

How to appeal a primary school place

Every parent has the right to appeal their allocated school place. However, you need to know that infant place appeals are the least likely to succeed. 

Infant class sizes are capped at 30 children and only under very exceptional circumstances will this be exceeded. 

You will need to submit an appeal request to your local authority following the process on their website. Appeals normally take place between May and August. 

Reasons for appealing a primary school place

There are two types of appeal. One that challenges the infant class size legislation and the other that focuses on your child’s specific learning needs.

You can appeal on the following grounds:

  • Illegal admission criteria

  • Admission criteria has been incorrectly applied, otherwise your child would have been allocated a place

  • The decision not to admit your child is unreasonable

The other type of appeal is if you feel there are strong reasons why your child should attend the school e.g. a special educational need. In this case:

  • The school has to prove that admitting your child would prejudice the education of the class as a whole, or would involve an inefficient use of educational resources, or,

  • You have to prove that the impact on your child of not being admitted would outweigh any prejudice to the school.

Steps to take when appealing your primary school place

If you decide to go ahead we recommend you following these steps:

  1. Accept the place you’ve been offered – this is to ensure your child has a place to go to school. It may take longer than you’d like to find another school.

  2. Put your child’s name on the waiting list of any schools that you want them to go to (they can be on more than one).

  3. Contact your local council for an appeals form

  4. Set out the main reasons for your appeal and share any supporting evidence

You will be invited to an appeal hearing. This may be virtual or in person, where a panel of three independent people will consider your case.

The panel must decide if the school’s admission criteria is legal and followed fairly or they must decide whether the reasons for the child to be admitted are stronger than the school’s reasons for not admitting them.

You’ll be notified of the decision within five working days.

Primary school children in the schools garden planting

Tips and support for parents

  • Start early– research your local schools and talk to other parents about their experiences.

  • Find your top three– Rather than going straight to selecting your top school for your child, it’s worth approaching the process thinking my child will be attending one of these local schools. What would be my top three choices? 

  • Go along to school events– hopefully this will become something we can all do again. You can get a real feel for a school by attending their summer fetes, Christmas fairs or other community events.

  • Book in for open days– to have an opportunity to see the school in action and meet some of the teachers.

  • Do some spot checks– walk by the school during the lunch time or at the beginning or end of the school day. What is the atmosphere like? Are children well behaved? How are they interacting in the playground?

  • Keep calm– choosing a school can feel like a stressful process but it doesn’t need to be. Staying calm and avoiding parental stress will help you create the right atmosphere for your child. You want them to feel excited and confident about this next step. 

  • Wait for the offer– Avoid confirming which school your child will be going to until you are offered the place. Once you know for sure then it’s time to get familiar and excited!

  • Attend any settling-in sessions– meet other children going to the school to help them prepare for the start of school.

Chat to us

Did you know Explore Learning has a long history of working with schools in your local area? 

For an impartial point of view, visit your local Explore Learning tuition centre and discuss your choices with our centre managers. They will be able to share their experience and knowledge of children already attending the local schools as well as supporting you with any questions you may have about your child’s learning.

We hope your journey into the world of primary school is a calm and happy one.  

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