School admissions

This page provides information on the schools admission process, the law surrounding school admissions and appealing the refusal of a school place.

School admissions are governed by the School Admissions Code.

School Admissions Appeals are governed by the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (the Act) and the School Admissions Appeals Code 2012.

Which schools do the Codes apply to?

Both Codes apply to maintained primary and secondary schools in England. Academies, free schools and university technical colleges are required by their funding agreements to comply with the Code and the law on admissions, but the Secretary of State can vary this. The Code does not apply to Independent schools or to further education establishments except for 6th forms attached to maintained schools and Academies.

How do I apply for school places?

Your local authority should be able to provide you with a list of schools in your area or you can use this government resource

The main times when parents will be applying for school places will be when their children are entering primary or secondary school. Usually applications for secondary schools should be made by 31 October and applications for primary schools made by 15 January.

An application will be treated as a late application if:

  • it was made after the above date (whichever is relevant) but before the first day of the academic term; AND
  • it wasn’t considered before the ‘offer date’.

Any application for a school place on or after the first day of the academic term will be considered as an in-year application. Any application for another age group will also be considered as an in-year application. 

Local authorities co-ordinate admissions to all schools (primary and secondary), no matter who the admission authority of the school is.

For applications in the normal admissions round, local authorities must provide a Common Application Form (CAF) that enables parents to express their preference for a place at any state-funded school (see Section 86 School Standards and Framework Act 1998). The form allows a parent to give at least 3 preferences in rank order, and includes  space for their reasons. Parents may express a preference for any state-funded school, regardless of whether it is in the local authority area in which they live. Admission authorities must not give any guarantees that a preference will be met.

What information must a school publish?

  • Admissions criteria
  • The amount of pupil premium the school receives, how it is spent and the effect of it
  • The curriculum 
  • The behaviour policy, special educational needs and disability policy
  • Links to Ofsted reports
  • Performance data
  • Progress measures for Key Stages 2 and 4

Is there a duty to comply with parental preference?

Under Section 86, local authorities are under an obligation to comply with the wishes of a parent in expressing a preference for a particular school, unless it would prejudice the provision of education or the efficient use of resources. Therefore, parents have a right to express a preference for the school they want their child to attend, but do not have a right for their child to attend that particular school.

Published admission arrangements must make it clear that a separate application must be made for a transfer from nursery to primary school and from infant to junior school.

If a school is undersubscribed, any parent that applies must be offered a place unless the application was for a designated grammar school. When oversubscribed, the admission authority must rank applications in order against its published oversubscription criteria. See below for information on awarding places when a school is oversubscribed.

Children who have been permanently excluded twice

Where a child has been permanently excluded from two or more schools, a parent can still express a preference for a school place, but the requirement to comply with that preference is removed for a period of 2 years from the date on which the latest exclusion took place (Section 87 School Standards and Framework Act 1998). This does not apply to:

  • children with an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP);
  • children who were below compulsory school age when excluded;
  • children who were reinstated following a permanent exclusion;
  • children who would have been reinstated following a permanent exclusion, had it been practicable to do so.

A permanent exclusion is regarded as taking effect from the first school day that the head teacher told the child not to attend school. The admission authority for the school or Academy may refuse to admit a child who has been excluded twice. In the case of a community or voluntary controlled school, the governing body may appeal against the decision of the Local Authority (as the admission authority) to admit the child.

Local Authorities are still responsible for providing suitable full-time education for these children from the 6th day of exclusion; they may need to use their powers of direction or provide a place in a Pupil Referral Unit or other alternative provision setting. For more details on this see our page on Education for Children out of School.

The School Admissions Policy

The admission authority for each school (whether it is the local authority or the governing body) is required to prepare an admission policy for that school. To comply with the Code, the policy must be written in plain English, and in any other commonly used community languages. It will usually be contained within a comprehensive booklet for parents produced by the local authority about the schools available in their area. It must include the following information:

  • The Published Admission Number (PAN) for every year group into which pupils can be admitted, including Year 12 when there is a 6th form. The PAN is the maximum number of pupils that the admission authority will admit to each year group. Each school has a PAN for the whole school. This number will have been agreed with the Local Authority. The published number is divided evenly into each year group to arrive at the PAN for each year group.
  • The expected number of pupils on roll at the school and the school’s age range.
  • The oversubscription criteria to be applied, and the order in which these will apply, if the admission authority receives more applications than there are places in the school for any particular year group. These criteria may include:
    • residence in the catchment area (or priority admission area of the school);
    • the so-called sibling criteria (i.e. having a brother or sister in the school already); and/or
    • attendance at a local primary school.
    • a "tie-breaker", which is a way of separating applications falling into any one category of the oversubscription criteria.
      If this exists it is usually geographical distance from the school.
      Note: Faith schools may be different (see below).
  • Information about any aptitude tests. Some specialist schools are allowed to select a percentage of pupils they admit by using an ability test. There are different rules for schools which are selective by nature, such as grammar schools.
  • Information about whether a waiting list will be kept and if so for how long.
  • Information about how any late applications will be handled.

It may also include information about previous applications, which criteria places were allocated under previously and the number of successful appeals last year. This should allow parents to assess the likelihood of them getting their children into their preferred schools.

‘Looked After’/’Previously Looked After’ Children

Children in care are among the most vulnerable children in society and it is of paramount importance that a school place is found that is in the best interests of the child as quickly as possible. Admission authorities must give highest priority to looked after children and previously looked after children.

A ‘looked after’ child is defined as a child in the care of the Local Authority or who is being provided with accommodation by a Local Authority in the exercise of their social services functions at the time of making an application to the school.

A ‘previously looked after’ child is a child who was looked after but were then immediately adopted, became subject to a Child Arrangements Order or a Special Guardianship Order. 

After prioritising ‘looked after’ and ‘previously looked after’ children, all other applicants must then be considered according to the oversubscription criteria.

Admission authorities for faith schools must give first priority to ‘looked after’ children and ‘previously looked after’ children of the faith before other children of the faith. Where they give any element of priority to children not of their faith, they must give priority in their oversubscription criteria to ‘looked after’ children and ‘previously looked after’ children not of the faith above other children not of the faith.

Looked after and previously looked after children who have been in state care outside of England and ceased to be in state care as a result of being adopted will be prioritised along with those who are looked after or previously looked after in England. A child will be regarded as having been in state care outside of England if they were in the care of or were accommodated by a public authority, a religious organisation, or any other provider of care whose sole or main purpose is to benefit society. 

Guidance on promoting the education of looked after children and previously looked after children can be found here.

Children with Special Educational Needs (SEN)

Children with Statements and EHCPs

All governing bodies are required by Section 324 Education Act 1996 to admit to the school a child with a Statement of SEN that names the school. Under Section 43 Children and Families Act 2014, the school named in an EHCP must admit the child. This is not an oversubscription criterion – schools must admit such children regardless of whether they have places available. Admission authorities must not imply in their published admission arrangements that they have discretion over the admission of children with an EHCP.

Children with EHCPs are not admitted through the admissions arrangements and are placed in schools through the EHCP process.

Children with SEN but no EHCP

It is unlawful for an admission authority to refuse admission to a child who has SEN, but has no EHCP:

  • on the grounds of the child’s challenging behaviour (except in very limited circumstances); or
  • because it believes the child requires a statutory assessment or requires additional support.

Any such refusal to admit can be challenged at an Independent Admission Appeal Panel. If the appeal is unsuccessful, an application for judicial review of the panel’s decision or a complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman may be appropriate. See our How-To Guide on Appealing an Education, Health & Care Plan or a Statement of Special Educational Needs for more information. 

In line with the Equality Act 2010, children with disabilities must not to be treated less favourably than others in the admission process. A school should make reasonable adjustments to prevent discrimination. Any complaint of discrimination in admission arrangements should be made to the Independent Admission Appeal Panel, not the First Tier Tribunal. For more information see our page on Disability discrimination in education

Faith Schools

Faith schools are schools designated by the Department of Education as having a religious character. The admission authorities of these schools are allowed to give preference in the admission policy to members of a particular faith or denomination, provided that this does not conflict in any way with other legislation, such as legislation on race discrimination. When drawing up admission arrangements, admissions authorities for faith schools must have regard to any guidance from the body or person representing the religion/religious denomination.

The faith school must also consult with the body or person representing the religion/religious denomination when determining how an applicant can demonstrate that they practice that faith.

Selective Schools

Only designated grammar schools are permitted to select their entire intake on the basis of high academic ability. Grammar schools do not have to fill all of their places if applicants have not reached the required standard. If the entire intake is based on high academic ability, the school does not have to give priority to ‘looked after’ or ‘previously looked after’ children. If the admission arrangements are not based solely on the highest scores, the admission authority must give priority to all ‘looked after’ or ‘previously looked after’ children who meet the ability test standards. 

Partially selective schools can select some of their intake by ability. These schools must publish the entry requirements and selection process. If there are not enough applicants who have satisfied the published entry requirements, they must offer places to other children.

Some schools can select pupils by aptitude but must not allow for more than 10% of the total admissions intake to be allocated on this basis. A school can only select by aptitude in the following areas:

  • physical education or sport(s);
  • performing arts;
  • visual arts;
  • modern foreign language(s);
  • design and technology and IT (for schools 2007/08 onwards).

Maintained boarding schools

Maintained boarding schools can have separate admissions numbers for:

  • day places – where pupils attend on a daily basis (including pupils who attend after school activities);
  • boarding places – where pupils have overnight board and lodging at the school.

They can interview applicants for boarding places, but can only do so to establish:

  • whether a child poses a serious health and safety risk to other boarders; and/or
  • whether they will be able to cope with and benefit from boarding.

and must clearly set out this process in their admissions arrangements.

Boarding schools must give priority in their oversubscription criteria as follows:

  1. ‘looked after’ children and ‘previously looked after’ children;
  2. children of members of the UK Armed Forces who qualify for financial help with boarding fees from the Ministry of Defence;
  3. children with a "boarding need".

Random allocation

Local Authority admission authorities cannot use ‘random allocation’ as their main oversubscription criterion.

Random allocation can be used as a lower oversubscription criterion but it must be clear how this will operate and the process must be supervised by an independent person. Each and every time a child is offered a place on a waiting list, a fresh round of random allocation should be used. 

Siblings at the school

Admission authorities can use siblings at the school as an oversubscription criterion. They must make it clear how this will be defined (e.g. whether it will include half-siblings and step-siblings, foster siblings, adopted siblings, other children living permanently at the same address and siblings who formerly attended the school).

It is also possible for an admission authority to give priority to applicants who have a sibling at another state-funded school with which they have close links.

Distance from the school

Distance from the school is a common oversubscription criterion. The admissions arrangement must clearly define how this will be measured, how the home address will be determined and what happens if a child shares their time during the school week at more than one address.

Catchment areas

A school’s catchment area must be measured in a reasonable and clearly defined way. Parents who live outside of catchment can still apply to that school.

Feeder schools

Admission authorities can give priority to children from feeder schools, as long as it is transparent and reasonable.

Children of staff at the school

Admission authorities may give priority in their oversubscription criteria to children of staff in the following circumstances:

  • where the member of staff has been employed at the school for 2 or more years at the time at which the application for admission to the school is made; and/or
  • the member of staff is recruited to fill a vacant post for which there is a demonstrable skill shortage.

Children of crown servants

Families of crown servants returning from overseas to the UK can apply for schools before they move back. Admission authorities must allocate a place before they arrive as long as the application contains an official letter confirming the address. If a school is oversubscribed, school places must be allocated lawfully in line with the admissions criteria.

In September 2015, the Department for Education released an explanatory note, Admission of children of crown servants.

Children eligible for pupil premium or service premium

Under Section 7 Childcare Act 2006, disadvantaged children who receive state-funded education may be eligible for early years pupil premium.

Under Section 14 Education Act 2002, disadvantaged children may be eligible for pupil premium and children of Armed Services personnel may be eligible for service premium

An admission authority may give priority in its oversubscription criteria to children who are eligible for early years pupil premium, pupil premium and service premium if:

  • they are in a nursery class attached to a school; or
  • they attend a nursery, established and run by a school, that is named in the admission arrangements.

Admission of children below compulsory school age and deferred entry to school

Admission authorities must provide for the admission of all children in the September following their 4th birthday. The authority must make it clear in their arrangements that:

  • parents can request that the date their child is admitted to school is deferred until later in the academic year or until the term in which the child reaches compulsory school age; and
  • parents can request that their child takes up the place part-time until the child reaches compulsory school age.

Admission of children outside their normal age group

Parents of gifted and talented children, or those who have experienced problems or missed part of a year, for example due to ill health, can seek places outside their normal age group. Admission authorities must make decisions on a case-by-case basis, informing parents of their statutory right to appeal. This right does not apply if they are offered a place in another year group at the school.

Social and medical need

Admission arrangements can contain oversubscription criteria for children who require a place at the school on the basis of a social or medical need. If admission authorities decide to use social and medical need as an oversubscription criterion, they must:

  • set out in their arrangements how they will define this need;
  • give clear details about what supporting evidence will be required (e.g. a letter from a doctor or social worker); and
  • make consistent decisions based on the evidence provided.

Parents must provide this evidence, in order for their application to be considered under this criterion. Evidence must be tailored to the school in question and why the child needs to attend this school. The admission authority will consider this evidence and decide whether the child should be classed as falling within this criterion.

Note: Schools are not required to have such a priority/criterion within their oversubscription criteria. If they don’t, applications will only be considered in line with their existing criteria and no special consideration will be given for children with such needs.

Infant Class Size Exceptions

Infant classes (Reception to Year 2)) must not contain more than 30 pupils with a single school teacher. Additional children may only be admitted under limited exceptional circumstances, extended by the Code.

The excepted children are:

  • children admitted outside the normal admissions round with statements of Special Educational Needs (SEN) specifying a school;
  • ‘looked after’ children and ‘previously looked after’ children admitted outside the normal admissions round;
  • children admitted, after initial allocation of places, because of a procedural error made by the admission authority or Local Authority in the original application process;
  • children admitted after an Independent Admission Appeal Panel upholds an appeal;
  • children who move into the area outside the normal admissions round, for whom there is no other available school within reasonable distance;
  • children of UK service personnel admitted outside the normal admissions round;
  • children whose twin or sibling from a multiple birth is admitted otherwise than as an excepted pupil;
  • children with SEN who are normally taught in a SEN unit attached to the school, or registered at a special school, who attend some infant classes within the mainstream school.

Whether a child will be considered to be admitted outside the normal admissions round will depend on whether the child has been offered or refused the place on National Offer Day for that application year. If the child is offered or refused the place on National Offer Day then this is part of the normal admissions round. If the child is offered or refused a place after National Offers Day that this will be outside of the normal admissions round.

Independent Schools and Further Education Establishments

The admission procedures of Independent schools, colleges or other further education establishments fall outside the 2 Codes of Practice. However, these institutions must take account of the Equality Act 2010, the Human Rights Act 1998 and the rules of natural justice, when drafting and implementing their admission policy and procedure.

If an Independent school or college discriminates against a potential student on the grounds of disability, a complaint can be made by the parent or guardian to the First Tier Tribunal (Special Educational Needs and Disability). Before making such a complaint, the potential student should exhaust any appeals procedure set out in the school or college’s own admissions policy and, preferably, make a formal complaint using the school or college complaints policy.

If there is a possible breach of rights under the Human Rights Act 1998 or non-compliance with the rules of natural justice, the parent or pupil should seek legal advice as to the possibility of a judicial review in the High Court.

Awarding places

The admission authority of the school will decide whether or not to admit the child.

With the exception of designated grammar schools, all maintained schools, including faith schools, that have enough places available must offer a place to every child who has applied for one, without condition or the use of any oversubscription criteria.

Admission authorities must not refuse to admit a child solely because:

  • they have applied later than other applicants;
  • they are not of the faith of the school in the case of a faith school;
  • they followed a different curriculum at their previous school;
  • information has not been received from their previous school; or
  • they have missed entrance tests for selective places.

However, problems arise when the school is oversubscribed, which means they have more applications than places available. In these circumstances the admission authority will award places in line with the oversubscription criteria specified in their admissions arrangements.

The admissions arrangements of all maintained schools and academies have to comply with the Code. If you have concerns about the content of a school’s admissions arrangements, you will need to check this against Code.


Once the admissions process has been completed, the Local Authority must write to parents and offer one place per child.

  • For secondary school applications, all offers must be made on 1 March or the next working day, and
  • For primary school applications, all offers must be made on 16 April or the next working day.

When a Local Authority or an admission authority informs a parent of a decision to refuse their child a place at a school for which they have applied, it must include:

  • the reason why admission was refused;
  • information about the right to appeal;
  • the deadline for lodging an appeal; and
  • the contact details for making an appeal.

Parents must be informed that if they wish to appeal, they have to set out their grounds for appeal in writing.

Right of Appeal

Section 94 School Standards and Framework Act 1998 requires admission authorities of schools to make arrangements to allow parents to appeal against any decision to refuse entry, following an application.

Any parent who has not been awarded a place for their child at their first preference school will be given a right of appeal to an Independent Admissions Appeal Panel. If this is the case, the letter must inform parents of their right to appeal, including details of how to do so. Parents can appeal against the refusal to admit their child to a school even if they have already accepted another school and can also appeal against the decision not to admit their child to more than one school.

For more details on preparing an appeal see our How-To Guide on School Admissions Appeals.

Withdrawal of Offer

Once an offer of admission has been made, it can only be withdrawn in very limited circumstances. The admission authority may require a parent to accept the offer of a place at the school within a specified period giving them notice that if they do not do so the offer will be withdrawn. 

When accepting an offer of a place, it is wise for a parent to send the acceptance by recorded delivery and to keep a dated copy. It is not unknown for acceptance forms to go astray.

An offer can be withdrawn if the offer was made in error. This will usually be where the child did not actually meet the admission criteria for the school and would not have been offered a place if the admission criteria had been properly applied.

An offer can also be withdrawn if it was made on the basis of a fraudulent or deliberately misleading application (for example, where a parent has used an address on the application which is not actually the child’s home address).

When a child has begun attending the school then the place can only be withdrawn if it was offered based on fraudulent information in the application. In deciding whether to withdraw an offer in these circumstances, the admission authority must take account of the length of time the child has been at the school.

Key terms

  • Admission Authority: this is body that deals with admissions for the school.
  • Published Admissions Number or PAN: this is the number of pupils that the school can admit into each relevant age group: Reception, year 7 and year 12.
  • Net Capacity: the total number of pupils the school has been assessed as being able to admit. This looks at the number and size of the classrooms (how much usable space there is for core teaching activities).
  • Admissions Criteria/Policy: these polices set out the admissions number for the school and the over-subscription criteria which will set out how applications will be prioritised if the school is oversubscribed.
  • Infant Class Size Prejudice: there is a statutory limit of 30 pupils that can be admitted into infant classes (for applications for entry into Reception, Year 1 or Year 2) under section 1 School Standards and Framework Act 1998. If a school has admitted this number of children, no further children can be admitted to the school (except in limited circumstances as set out below). Therefore the reasons for the refusal will be that to admit any further children would cause Infant Class Size Prejudice.

Going further

More detailed information on school admission appeals can be found in our How-To Guide.

This information is correct at the time of writing, 2nd May 2024. The law in this area is subject to change.

Coram Children’s Legal Centre cannot be held responsible if changes to the law outdate this publication. Individuals may print or photocopy information in CCLC publications for their personal use.

Professionals, organisations and institutions must obtain permission from the CCLC to print or photocopy our publications in full or in part.

On this page

This information is correct at the time of writing, 2nd May 2024. The law in this area is subject to change.

Coram Children’s Legal Centre cannot be held responsible if changes to the law outdate this publication. Individuals may print or photocopy information in CCLC publications for their personal use.

Professionals, organisations and institutions must obtain permission from the CCLC to print or photocopy our publications in full or in part.

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