Admission to your preferred grammar school is not automatic, even if your child has qualified in the 11+ tests. All schools have an Admissions Policy which the school’s admission authority uses to allocate places if they receive more applications than they have places available; these are commonly referred to as “over-subscription criteria”.

Every Local Authority (LA) will have different rules for Admissions to secondary schools. Often the rules may be different for individual schools within the same Local Authority. Foundation schools, Voluntary Aided Schools (faith schools) and Academies can set their own admissions criteria.

As there are so many variations in admissions policies the information in this section is a basic introduction to the process of allocating places and is for general guidance only. It is essential that you research thoroughly the admissions policies of the schools you choose to put on your application form.

Admissions to all schools in England and Wales are governed by the School Admissions Code. This very lengthy document specifies exactly what admissions authorities are and are not permitted to take into account when allocating places. At the heart of the Code is the requirement that admission authorities must make every effort to ensure that all parents are able to understand the admissions process and in particular how over-subscription criteria will be applied.

We have also provided a glossary of the most commonly used terms in school admissions to help you understand the admission rules.

How are school places allocated?

Places are allocated using various different means, depending on the LA’s or school’s Admissions Policy. Admission authorities are obliged by the School Appeals Code to admit two categories of children ahead of all others:

1. Children in the care of the Local Authority

2. Children with a Statement of Special Needs that specifically names the school.

Once those children have been allocated places, other rules will be applied in the order specified by the Admissions Policy.

  • Catchment – a pre-defined area around the school that is given priority. Local Authorities are required to publish maps that show the catchment areas for each school. Sometimes catchment will be defined by specific postcode areas.
  • Distance – from home to the main entrance of the school, measured using Ordnance Survey mapping software. Measurements may be either “shortest journey (including footpaths)” or “as the crow flies”. Admission authorities must provide information to parents about historical allocation distances as an indication of whether this is reliable guide to the future.
  • Sibling priority – priority may be given to children who already have an older brother or sister attending the school. There may be limits on this such as “siblings in Years 7 – 10 only at the time of admission”. It is illegal under the School Admissions Code for priority to be given to siblings for schools where places are allocated by highest score in the 11+ tests.
  • 11 + score – highest score downwards until all places are filled. It is illegal under the School Admissions Code for priority to be given to siblings for schools where places are allocated by highest score in the 11+ tests.
  • Tie-breaker – elements of the 11+ test that are used to decide between two otherwise equal applications.
  • Religious commitment (for Faith Schools)
  • Exceptional medical, educational or social reasons – professional evidence would be required to support such admissions
  • Aptitude – places at partially selective schools for children with academic, musical or sporting talent
  • Random Allocation – also known as a lottery system. (This does not yet apply to grammar schools other than as a “tie breaker” for two children who both satisfy the admissions criteria equally.)

This is a typical example of an Admissions Policy based primarily on distance:

1. Children living in the catchment area of the school.

2. Siblings of children in Years 7-10 who are on the roll of the school at the time the allocations are made.

3. Children who have exceptional medical or social needs supported by written evidence from a doctor, social worker, education welfare officer or other appropriate person.

4. Once the above rules have been applied, then any further places will be offered in distance order, using the distance between the family’s normal home address and the school’s nearest entrance gate, offering the closest first. We use the shortest appropriate route.

Where a school can take some, but not all, of the children who qualify under one of these rules, we will give priority to children by taking account of the next rule (or rules) in the numbered list. For example, if all the children who qualify under Rule 1 can be offered places but there are too many children who qualify under Rule 2, we will use Rules 3, 4 and 5 to rank all children qualifying under Rule 2 and decide who can be offered a place.

For example, places are offered to in-catchment siblings before children living in the catchment area without siblings. In each case distance is used to prioritise which children should be offered places.

If you are in any doubt about whether your child might be admitted to a specific school you should contact the Admission Authority. Generally they are very helpful. In some areas there may also be a “School Choice Service” to help you understand the system.

When are school places allocated?

In virtually every case, the allocations of school places will be communicated to parents on March 1st each year, or the first working day thereafter. This is commonly known as National Allocation Day (NAD).

If you have applied for schools online you will either be able to view your child’s school allocation on the Local Authority website at some point on NAD, or you will receive an email. In some areas it may be both.

If you submitted a paper application you will receive a letter about your child’s school allocation, and that will be posted (usually first class) on NAD. If your letter does not arrive within 3 working days of Allocation Day you should contact the Admission Authority as a matter of urgency because there will be set time frame (usually two weeks) within which you have to accept the place offered.

What to do if you are not allocated your first place school

You can ask to go on the waiting list for your preferred school and you can also appeal for a place through an over-subscription appeal. There is more advice about this on our Appeals section

You can also add further schools to your list of preferences at this stage – ones that you did not list on the original CAF.

In the first instance though, you should accept the place at the school you have been offered, even if you have no intention of taking it up in September. Accepting the place will not prejudice your position on the waiting lists and nor will it affect the outcome of your appeal.

You should call the Admission Authority to establish where your child is on the waiting list. You should also submit the form for an appeal, even if your child is very high on the waiting list. You can withdraw from the appeal right up until the last moment, but please do advise the Admission Authority that you will not be attending the hearing as soon as possible.