Call our free helpline0808 808 3555
Call our free helpline
0808 808 3555
Listen to our parent adviser Jill give her tips on
applying for a secondary school place
School admissions can be stressful for any family. The choice
parents have is often limited by where they live, complex admission
arrangements and increased pressure on school places in the area.
Families with disabled children may have additional concerns about
whether a school will include their child, keep them safe and give
them the help they need to learn.
The information on this page will help you apply for a place for
your child, whether they are starting school for the first time or
changing to another school.
Most children with special
educational needs and disabilities (SEND) will get a school
place in the same way as children without SEND. There is a
different system for children with an Education Health and
Care (EHC) plan / statement of special
educational needs. We'll look at both.
Most children with special educational needs (SEN) do not have
an EHC plan. They are supported from the help generally available
in the school. These children must go to mainstream school, and
they will get a school place through the normal admissions
Nomal admissions round
This is when children start school for the first time or move to
a different phase of education, for example from primary to
secondary school. Admissions are coordinated centrally by the local
authority where the child lives. There is a single national
deadline for secondary applications (31 October) and one for
primary applications (15 January).
When applying for your child, you will need to fill in a single
form and state the schools you'd like in order of preference. You
can apply for schools outside your own local authority if you want
to, but you still use your own local authority's form.
The information on your form is then passed to the schools to
decide whether they can offer your child a place based on their
Many schools have more applicants than places available and use
oversubscription criteria to decide which children have
Criteria for community schools and some church schools are set
by the local authority. Criteria for all other state-funded schools
are set by the governors of the school. It is important to check
the oversubscription criteria to see how likely your child is to
get a place. You should include as a back up at least one school in
your list where your child has a good chance of a place.
Common criteria are:
Faith schools generally give priority to children of that
particular faith. You may need to fill in a separate form with
details of religious practice, for example church attendance. Other
schools may select children on the basis of academic potential or
offer a set number of places to children with an aptitude in sport,
music or languages.
Parents sometimes ask if their child can get priority because of
a disability, medical condition or special educational need. All
schools must admit children with an EHC plan that names the school,
but other children with SEN do not automatically have priority.
Most local authorities have an expectation that all schools in the
area are able to cater for common difficulties.
Some schools do have a criterion for exceptional social or
medical need, but this is not universal, and such criteria can be
hard to meet. You are likely to need professional evidence that
your child's needs cannot be met in any other school. It is
important to submit evidence of this when you apply.
Offer of a school
The schools you've listed will each decide whether they can
offer your child a place. The local authority will consider these
offers against your preferences, along with everyone else's. And on
national offer day (1 March for secondary, 16 April for primary),
you'll get a single offer of a school.
Your offer will be the highest preference school on your list
that can give your child a place. If none of your preferences can
offer your child a place - because too many other children are
higher up on the oversubscription criteria - you'll be offered
another school. This is likely to be the nearest school with places
still available. Usually there will be a form to fill in to confirm
that you accept the school offered.
If you have moved into an area outside of the normal admissions
round, or if you want a change of school for your child, this is
known as an 'in-year' admission. The process for this varies
between areas and schools. Not all in-year admissions are
co-ordinated by the local authority, so you may need to apply
directly to the school. Contact the admissions section in your
local authority for more details. As a general rule, if a school
has a place available they cannot refuse to admit your child.
What if I'm not happy with the school offered?
If you are not happy with the school you have been offered,
don't panic. There are a number of things you can do:
We advise that you accept the school place offered if you can,
even if you aren't happy with it. This will ensure that your child
at least has a guaranteed school place if other options fail.
Appeals are made to an independent appeal panel. You must be
given at least 20 school days to submit your appeal. The panel
considers the appeal in two stages:
Note that if your appeal is for an infant class (year R, 1 or 2)
that already has 30 children in it, the panel can only uphold your
appeal if there has been a mistake and your child should have been
given a place.
Please call our
helpline if you need further advice on an appeal.
Can a school refuse to take a child because they are
As a general rule, no. School admissions are covered by the
Equality Act. If you are going through the normal admissions
system, a school cannot refuse to take your child because they have
a disability or SEN, if your child would otherwise have qualified
for a place under the admission criteria.
Can a school refuse to admit a child without an EHC
A school cannot refuse to admit a child on the grounds that the
child may need an EHC plan but hasn't yet got one. If the school is
full, however, or you are low down on the oversubscription
criteria, it may only be possible to get a place by having an EHC
plan that names the school.
My child is due to start school next year but doesn't yet have an
EHC plan - what do I do?
You will need to go through the normal admissions system in the
first instance and make sure you get your application in on time.
You may otherwise miss out on a school place. If your child does
get an EHC plan before starting school, you will have another
chance to ask for a school at that point. See the section below on
children with EHC plans.
The admissions system for children with EHC plans is different;
you do not go through the normal admissions system.
Instead, part of the process of getting an EHC plan involves
getting a 'named' school. This means that you can express a
preference for the school you want at the time you first get the
EHC plan or when your child moves to a different phase of
You can also ask for a change of school at an annual review.
This also applies to children who still have statements under the
Naming a school or college in an EHC plan
When you get a draft EHC plan, the name of the school in section
I will be left blank. You will be asked for your preference of
school, which might be mainstream or special.
You have a right to express a preference for any school in the
If your child still has a statement, please ring our helpline
as the rules are slightly different.
The local authority must then consult with your preferred
school; that normally involves sending the school a copy of the EHC
plan and reports. The school will give an opinion about whether
they can meet your child's needs, but the final decision on whether
to name a school lies with the local authority.
The local authority must name your preference as long as it
If it is named on the EHC plan, the school must give your child
If you want a school or college that is completely independent
then you can ask the local authority to consider it. This is called
'making representations'. The school will need to agree to take
your child, and you will probably have to prove that no other
school is suitable.
Sometimes your local authority may not name the school you want.
This could be for a reason such as:
If you are turned down, ask for detailed reasons as this will
help you decide whether you want to appeal.
There is a general right in law to a mainstream school place if
this is what you want. If you say that you want mainstream and the
local authority cannot name your preferred school, it then needs to
look more widely at other mainstream schools in the area.
The local authority can only name a special school against your
The local authority cannot refuse mainstream outright on the
grounds of that it is 'not suitable'.
Moving to secondary school or
post 16 education with an EHC plan
If your child is moving to secondary school or leaving school to
go to college, you must be asked for your preference for the next
stage of education. Options are likely to be discussed at the
annual review before transfer.
There are set legal timescales for the local authority to name
the new school/college for entry in September. These are:
You will need to think about which school you want well before
this. For secondary transfer it is good to start planning when your
child is in year 5.
If your local authority does not name the school you want, there
is a right to go to mediation and to appeal to the First Tier
Tribunal for Special Educational Needs and Disability. You will
need to do this within two months of the decision.
Please ring our
helpline for further advice in this situation.
We also support Northern Ireland and Scotland. Give our helpline
a call on 0808 808 3555 and we can provide information or signpost
you to alternative sources of advice in those nations where
appropriate. Find out our local office details in the In your area