How to apply to primary schools – when’s the deadline?

How and when to apply, what information you'll need, what pitfalls to watch out for, when you're likely to hear - and what happens if you're moving house


First steps to applying for a primary school

1. You will need an application form. Schools will often hand these out to you at open days, along with the county or borough’s big fat booklet on how to apply. Although it’s a heavy tome, it can be full of useful information. You may also be able to apply online – check with your local authority or on the school’s website.


2. If you are in an area where demand for schools is high, it is well worth studying the statistics that come in the application booklet which will show how many children in the year before were offered places on a number of criteria, often in this order:

  • Children in care or with special needs.
  • Church attendance (if a faith school)
  • Sibling already at the school in the catchment area (this is being phased out in some areas)
  • Catchment area
  • Sibling at the school but from outside the catchment area
  • Distance to the school

When to apply

You can apply as soon as you like, but in most places, applications have to be in around 15 January 2020. But do check.

Local authorities sometimes run a second round of applications, so if you are moving house, for instance, and miss out on the first deadline, you may have another chance later in the year – this usually comes around March-May, when the first letters of acceptance have been sent out, and schools have an idea of how many places have been filled.

The key is to do your homework – and know when the deadlines are for the schools you want to apply for.

“We are on the cusp of several borough and I was caught out by Croydon’s deadline, which was in December, when the others were in January, so we missed out on applying there,” said Lynley, from Gypsy Hill.

What to include with your application form

1. You will need to show proof of address and may be asked for proof of identity. You’ll be asked for formal documents that show your address, for example a council tax bill or recent bank statement.

Watch out for: Print outs from online banking won’t be enough. If you no longer receive paper statements, you’ll need to request paper copies from your bank, which can take 5-7 days to be sent out.

If you are in the process of moving house, you will have to show a rental agreement, proof of exchange of contracts or similar. Call your local authority to confirm this.

2. You will also be able to support your application for the school with the reasons why you wish your child to go there.

3. If you are applying to a faith or church school, you will need to fill in a supplementary form if you are apply for a ‘foundation’ or church-sponsored place. This will detail your church attendance, whether your child has been baptised, and a reference from your priest or minister. The schools will usually be happy to offer help in filing in these forms.

When you’ll find out where your child has a place

Spring is the time when those all-important letters will appear. If you applied online, you may also be able to check your school offer on the web too. It varies from area to area, but will be between March and May in general.

What if you don’t get our first choice?

Don’t panic! You can ask to go on the waiting list for your preferred school, but don’t turn down your offer! You can sit on the waiting list while holding on to the offer at a place at a different school. You can also find out where on the list you are, and how likely it is that a place will become available. Remember, a lot can happen between spring and September!

You can also appeal for a place at your chosen school.

Independent schools

For independent schools the application dates will differ, and it is definitely worth applying sooner rather than later, although the Independent Schools Council recommends looking up to a year in advance.

“One mum friend of mine called a good private school nearby when our sons were 18 months old. They were already full, but she was told she could go on the waiting list – for a fee of £50,” continued Lynley.

Useful information about independent schools:

  • Schools for children aged 3-7 in the private sector are called pre-prep schools.
  • Non-refundable registration fees are common when applying to Independent schools.
  • Contact the school directly for a prospectus, and details of entrance exams and interviews that may be necessary before a place will be offered.
  • For more on applying to independent schools visit the Independent Schools Council website

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