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Secondary school admissions

However sanguine you are about your child's ability to fit in and get on at any school, it's well-nigh impossible not to succumb to the collective febrile hysteria that grips playgrounds as the move to secondary looms. And that's just the parents. Many secondary schools are oversubscribed and there is fierce (and we mean, fierce) competition for places at 'good' schools.

By Mumsnet HQ | Last updated Jul 14, 2021

Primary School Child

"I am starting to feel slightly dizzy thinking about this! Why can't we all just send our kids to the local school and be happy with it? Yes, I know why, because they are largely rubbish. But still, isn't it a nice idea?" PSCMUM

Your child will find the process stressful too, but far more stressful if you spend the whole time going on about how worried you are.

"Let them be kids! I'm sure our parents never had all this school angst!" sandyballs

Don't get too sucked in to swapping horror stories in the playground, especially when what you're getting is negativity. Bear in mind that while school is hugely important, it's not as important as having a cool and collected parent, or a functioning family.

Admissions criteria | How to apply | Applications timetable

Getting your head around admissions criteria

So how do you go about getting your child into the secondary school of your choice? What's fundamental is the entrance criteria: in other words, the rules that determine which candidates the school is looking for as pupils.

You need to find a school, or schools, that you like and whose entrance criteria your child fits. Do that, and you'll be successful. You'll find the admissions criteria on the school's website: if you're wise you'll check it before you fall in love with the school.

Examples of admissions criteria for secondary schools include:

  • Sibling(s) who will be at the school when your other child starts
  • You live close to the school
  • You or your child has a disability
  • Your family is of the religion served by the school (for faith schools)
  • Your child attends a linked primary
  • Entrance exam or selection test (grammar schools and some others select a proportion of their pupils on academic ability)
  • Assessment or audition (if the school awards a certain number of places on the basis of aptitude for certain subjects)
  • Random allocation or 'banding' (to ensure a school has pupils with a range of ability levels)
  • Interview (the only state-funded schools that are allowed to interview are boarding schools)  

Many parents get extremely irked by admissions criteria, as pages and pages of discussions on Mumsnet's Education Talk forums demonstrate.

"It's so GRINDINGLY DULL, isn't it? Dull, dull, dull, dull, dull." sunnywrong

But try to keep your cool: it's unreasonable to expect that every school can take every kid who wants to get in. Whatever you do, don't be tempted to waste time and emotional energy on applications that haven't a hope in hell of success.

And make sure, too, that you can provide evidence if needed that you fit the school's admissions criteria.

"All the parents round here who have been allocated a place on the distance rule this year have just been asked to provide proof of residency. In this instance, that means child benefit documents, council tax bill and a utility bill for the relevant period." clam

Faith schools may ask for confirmation of attendance at a place of worship, as well as documentary evidence that you are signed and sealed members of the faith, sometimes going back a generation. How far you're prepared to dissemble is a matter for your own conscience (and, frequently, the Mumsnet jury).

"Is it wrong to use church to ensure your children get into the popular school? Yes. Would I do it? Yes." Nagapie

Local authorities are the coordinating body for applications to all state secondary schools in their area; independent schools deal with their own applications, and you're free to apply to as many as you want.

You're bound to have a favourite school, but you'll probably have had to include other schools on your application as well, so don't be too negative about any of your choices in front of your child: if you end up having to take a place at a school that wasn't your first choice, it'll be a lot easier if you haven't shrouded the place in negativity.

For state schools, you'll usually be restricted to a certain number of choices and you'll need to complete your authority's application form, either online or on paper.

"Read the admissions criteria for the school, and see if any of them particularly apply to your child. Nothing else counts. Then highlight this fact in the box.For example, 'My child has a statement of Special Educational Needs and this school is named on his/her statement' gives you an excellent score. 'My child attends the feeder primary school' gives you a good score. 'There is a sibling already at the school' gives you another good score. 'It is our nearest maintained secondary school' also helps. 'It is our nearest specialist language / music / technology college' is not too bad but you're into more murky waters here. Do you get my drift? For more info see the Schools Admissions Code, as this is applied very strictly in almost all cases." BoffinMum  

Typical applications timetable

These timings may vary depending on where you are in the UK, so double-check on your local authority's website what the exact timings are in your area.

  • September/October: school open days
  • October/November: closing date for applications
  • November: aptitude tests, if necessary
  • November-February: interviews, if relevant
  • February/March: offers for places made
  • March-August: offers for places made from waiting lists
  • May/June: appeals heard

It's worth having a Plan B in case things go pear-shaped.

"If worst comes to worst and you get allocated a school you don't want, then get on waiting list for your preferences, and phone round yourself to see if there is a place at a nearish school you would be happier with." TotalChaos

You also have a right to appeal against the decision.

And if you need to vent about the sheer nerve-shredding stress of it all, get on Mumsnet Talk Education forums. You'll get advice and soothing empathy from other parents who've been there or are still there. Good luck.

Last updated: over 1 year ago