First steps when applying to secondary schools

1. Find find your local authority, by using the search form at Directgov.


2. Check with your local authority about the application procedure as you generally apply online. Admissions information is generally available online or to download around September the year before your child will go to secondary or upper school. Your child’s school will give you a Moving On pack that explains the application procedure.

3. Admissions criteria

Some of these are the same as for primary schools, so you’ll be familiar with them:

  • Siblings policy
  • Distance from school
  • Religion

But then there are other criteria that are particular to secondary schools, such as:

  • Entrance exam or selection test
  • Auditions or assessment

4. If you’re in an area where demand outstrips supply for the ‘good’ schools, 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. You may be able to make an educated guess based on if you know there are a lot of siblings in a year or, for instance, that boys are in short supply and you’re applying to an all boys’ school!

Application process timetable

These dates are a rough guide – please check with your own local authority in plenty of time!

  • Open days: September/October
  • Applications due in: October/November (some local authorities actively encourage you to get applications in earlier than the deadline)
  • Assessments/entrance exams: October/ November
  • Offers for places made: February/March
  • Offers from waiting lists: March-August
  • Appeals heard: May/June

Tips for successful applications

  1. You will need to show proof of address. In most cases this will be your council tax account number. But you may have to send in valid utility bills. Make sure they are originals, not photocopies, and that the bills are recent enough.
  2. Make sure your child is eligible for the schools you’re applying for. You don’t want to waste one of your choices.
  3. If you’re applying to a faith or church school, you’ll need to fill in a supplementary form if you’re apply for a ‘foundation’ or church-sponsored place. These usually go direct to the school, not the local authority.
  4. Remember you can apply to schools outside your local authority, but it must be done using the common application form from your own local authority, which will pass the details on to the relevant authority.
  5. Keep a copy of your application form – either a photocopy or a printout of an online application in case you have to appeal.
  6. Don’t be afraid to ask your local authority if you have questions. There’s usually a helpline set up for school applications.

“Place your schools in order of preference on the form, no more than that. If you choose schools where you’re out of their catchment area (postcode allocations apply to over subscribed schools) then it's pointless as you won't get in. So use that first choice for a school where you stand a chance of getting in,” says Glynis Kozma, author of Secondary School, A Parent's Guide (Need2Know).

“You cannot say why you want your child to go to that school unless your child fulfills certain criteria, which will be outlined in the Moving On pack. They include special needs, religious/faith factor, and siblings. No other reasons will count. If you have a pressing need for one school, then you can appeal once you have been rejected,” explains Glynis.

Types of secondary school


State-funded, non fee-paying schools set up under a funding agreement between the Secretary of State and the Academy Trust. The school’s Academy Trust is responsible for school admissions and decides how pupils will be admitted. Be aware that some schools may change to Academy status over the year, so make sure you’re aware of this before applying. Find out more about this type of school in our feature What are academies?

Trust schools

A trust school is a type of foundation school that forms a charitable trust with an outside partner. The school’s governing body is responsible for school admissions and decides how pupils will be admitted.

Voluntary Aided schools

Maintained by the local authority but strongly supported by the church
Authorities. The school’s governing body is responsible for school admissions and decides how pupils will be admitted.

Voluntary Controlled schools

Maintained by the local authority. These schools have close links with the church authorities, but only some members of the governing body are appointed by the religious foundation. The local authority is responsible for school admissions and decides how pupils will be admitted.

More like this

Grammar schools

Maintained by the local authority but entrance is selective and determined by an entrance exam – in some areas it is the 11-plus exam, in others it is an entrance exam for the specific school. Places may also be available on the basis of musical ability, and a separate test will be taken for this.

“Don’t beat yourself up about the 11-plus. I live in a county that does not do the 11-plus but the neighbouring county does and each year a few highly tutored kids from our neck of the woods get in. My friends think I am selfish for not giving my kids the ‘option’ but I know that the strain on our family both financially and in stress terms would be too much,” says mum Lucy, from Berkshire.


What if you don’t get your first choice of senior school?

Don’t panic! Ask for your child to go on the waiting list for your preferred school, but don’t turn down your offer. You’re able to stay on the waiting list while holding on to the offer you already have. You can also find out where on the list your child is. After all, quite a lot can happen between spring and September! You can also ring around local schools to find out if there are any places available. There will be an opportunity to appeal.