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How to get your child into your preferred primary school - myths and tips

Choosing a primary school can be an exciting but stressful process. With the help of experienced parents, we're sharing advice and debunking some myths – so you're well prepared for the application deadline (15 January)

By Mumsnet HQ | Last updated Jun 30, 2021

Primary school

How to apply for primary school

1. Decide what your priorities are

Lots of questions may come to mind when you register your child for school, beyond how and when to register for a place. Are you looking for a faith school? Does your child have any medical or special educational needs? Is your child looked after or adopted from care? If so, look at specific schools you like – irrespective of distance – and apply under those criteria if you seem eligible. Health needs will have to be verified by a health professional who will confirm that a certain school is best placed to support them.

''At the moment I'm thinking school A (well-resourced, good results, nice head) is the right choice. But yesterday I swayed towards school B because it's undersubscribed and they have smaller class sizes.''

2. Focus on schools within easy reach

When you begin the process of registering your child for school, the question “what's my nearest primary school?” is a good place to start. Schools generally select pupils according to distance, so concentrate on schools reasonably near your home (unless you're applying under any of the above criteria).

“Are you happy to do a longer journey in all weathers, to parties and events, for several years?''

3. Do your research

Read the Ofsted reports and the policies on the school websites, and arrange a visit too. Mumsnetters also recommend talking to parents of children already attending the school – they may offer a different perspective to Ofsted.

“Investigate all of the options and ask difficult questions. But often, you won't really get a feel for a school until you are in it day-to-day.''


4. Be realistic

You don't get a 'choice' – you express a preference.

“Just be prepared to be flexible about your school. You won't be able to choose.''

5. Make sure your list reflects your real preferences

List the schools in your genuine order of preference. This is important: of all the schools on your list that could give you a place according to their admission criteria, the local authority will allocate you the one which is highest up your list. They will then automatically put you on the waiting list for every school which is higher up your list than the one allocated. It means you can list schools which you would love, but have a slight chance of getting into – you may strike lucky and get that place. If not, you'll get a place at your nearest school. Listing other schools higher up does not disadvantage you.

“List the schools in order of your genuine preference, not because you think you are more likely to get into one if you put it higher on your list.''

6. Have a 'safe bet'

Gauge your chances of getting a place according to the admissions criteria and choose one school to give as a fallback – make sure it is a school that you are actually likely to get a place at. With luck this will also be one of your top preferences, but it may be your last preference. If you don't do this and your other choices are over-subscribed, the education authority may offer you a school which you like less.

“Less popular doesn't always mean bad. You definitely need to put the two you think she has a chance of getting into somewhere on your list.''

7. On National Offer Day, accept whatever school is allocated

You'll find out about your primary school place on National Offer Day, which is 16 April in 2020.

If you turn a place down, you may end up with a school which is further away, or with no place at all. Accepting the place does not affect your chances of a waiting list place in any other school, and after National Offer Day you can go on the waiting list for as many schools as you like.

“Fill in the application and then put all thoughts of schools to the back of your mind until offer day. Only then will you know for sure where she will be going.''

Walking to school

Ignore the school gate myths – here are some admissions facts

  • Local authorities do NOT 'have to' give you a place in a school on your list.

  • If none of the schools on your list can admit your child under their admissions criteria, you won't get a place and will be allocated a 'leftover' place – which by definition are ones which fewer people have wanted.

  • DON'T choose only one school or list your preferred school in every place on the list. This doesn't increase your chances of getting a place at that school – you might end up with no place at all.

  • Putting a school first does NOT make it more likely that this school will offer you a place.

  • The schools do not know where on the list you put them. If you really want a school by all means put it first, but if a school can select students according to their criteria, it will make no difference where on your list that school was.