Choosing the right state school for your child and having a place accepted isn’t as easy as it used to be. We asked Parental Choice to give us the run-down on what criteria to consider, together with tips on how best to apply. This is a must-read for those of you with children looking to start reception school in 2016, the time to start applying is now.


Applying for a state primary school place now is very different from when most of us were children. Gone are the days when our names were put on the waiting list at the school around the corner.

The aim of the new process is to give parents choice. In theory this is a good idea however with some schools being better than others we all tend to choose the same ones which leaves many people disappointed and with a distinct lack of perceived choice.

With the application process for Reception 2016 entry starting now it’s important to understand how to give yourself the best chance of getting the school that you want.

Choosing a school

When choosing a suitable school for your child there is a raft of information available to you including Ofsted reports and league tables. It is also very important to actually visit the school and talk to current parents about their experiences.

Every state school is required to have an up to date website which usually includes:

  • How much money additional money they get to support the underprivileged children on their roll (the ‘pupil premium’), what they do with it and the effect it’s had
  • Details of the curriculum
  • Admissions criteria
  • Behaviour policy
  • Special educational needs policy
  • Disability policy
  • Links to Ofsted reports
  • Links to performance data
  • The school’s latest key stage 2 and 4 attainment and progress measures.

Admissions criteria

The key to making a good application is to understand the admissions criteria. Every school sets their own however there are some legalities that they must adhere to:

When allocating places priority must always be given to:

  • Children in the care of the Local Authority (all schools must have this as a top priority);
  • Children of serving military personnel; and
  • Children who can demonstrate a specific need to go to a certain school for medical or special needs reasons.

From there the school is free to set their own criteria and these might include:

  • Siblings already in the school;
  • Academic banding (some schools draw a percentage of students from each band based on an entrance test although this is rare at primary level);
  • Proximity to school as the crow flies;
  • Proximity banding (some schools will draw a percentage of students from different radiuses); and
  • Religious attendance for denominational schools

All schools must publish this criteria and most do so on their websites. If you can’t find them, contact the school and they will provide it to you.

It is crucial that you understand the order in which each school applies its criteria so that you can work out which schools you have the best chance of accessing. Be sensible when you consider your options. The outstanding school three miles away might be your favourite but is there a realistic chance you will get in if they admit siblings and children living closest first? By all means put it on your list (and live in hope) but back it up with some realistic alternatives.

How to Apply

Most school applications are managed by the Local Authority (LA) where you live. You can apply to schools in other LA areas but you must do so through your own.

The applications window opens at the start of September and closes around the 15th January. Preference is not given to those who apply earlier in the process than others.

The usual way to apply is online. On the opening day your LA will have a link to their admissions portal on their website. You will need to complete your child’s details and list the schools you would like to apply to.

Depending on your Local Authority you will get between four and six choices. These are called preferences and we recommend that you use them all in order. If your highest preference can’t offer you a place the admissions department will work down the list. There is no guarantee that you will get a place at any school on your list although that is rare is most areas. In popular areas offers from third and fourth listed schools can be quite common. As you would expect the more densely populated areas, particularly those in the South East, have far fiercer competition for popular schools.

Offers of places will be made on National Offer Day which is around 15th April.

In the event that you are not offered a place at any school you have listed the Local Authority must offer you a place at a school in the area. In addition you have the right of appeal to any school should you feel that they have not applied their admissions criteria fairly.

So, if your child is due to start Reception in September 2016 now is the time to do your homework and then wait for offer day. Once your little one has started school next year you can sit back and relax until you have to go through the whole process again for Year 7!

By Parental Choice, the essential childcare guide for professional parents.

About The Author

Founder of Parental Choice

Sarah-Jane Butler is the founder of Parental Choice (, a one stop advice and childcare search service for professionals looking for the right childcare to fit their careers. In 2014, she was recognised by Brummell Magazine as one of the City's Top Inspirational Entrepreneurs, whilst Parental Choice was short-listed for the SME Employer of the Year Award by WorkingMums. A graduate of Bristol University, where she studied French and German, Sarah-Jane did her legal training at the College of Law in Guildford and then London. She began her career in financial law as a trainee and then junior associate within Linklaters' Equity and Debt Market Department. In 2004 she became an associate at Freshfields, a role which included a secondment to the New York office and to the Real Estate Banking Group at Goldman Sachs. From 2007 until 2011 Sarah-Jane was a senior associate at Berwin Leighton Paisner. It was whilst she was on maternity leave with her first child that Sarah-Jane started researching into childcare. As she explains, it didn't take long to recognise she was facing an uphill task: “There were nanny agencies telling me about nannies, local authorities offering contact details for childminders and various websites giving information about different nurseries, but what I really wanted was a central resource.” Sarah-Jane went back to work but realised that the time may have come to consider a change in career. “One evening my father asked what ever happened to my idea for a one-stop childcare shop. I thought, why not? I had never dreamed of starting my own business but it was something that seemed fundamental to me and to all parents out there facing the same issues as me.” She began sowing the seeds for what would become Parental Choice while she was pregnant with her second child and still working. A friend helped her to create the website, whilst contacts who were childcare and education experts assisted with the copywriting. At the same time as undertaking a huge programme of research, Sarah-Jane started retraining as an employment lawyer. Parental Choice was formed in June 2011 and was launched three months later. The first client came on board in August 2011 and her first employee, a friend who also happened to be an HR expert, joined as a consultant in September 2012 as the business was getting busier and busier. Today Parental Choice has grown to the point where it now has eight employees, with three additional members of staff due to join by the end of the year. As the company began to take shape so Sarah-Jane realised that helping other parents avoid the stress and hassle she had encountered was only part of what could be achieved. Already a firm believer that many companies were losing valuable talent and experience through parents leaving work due to lack of childcare and difficulties combining a career and family, she began to see what a valuable resource Parental Choice could be to employers too. Aside from running the business, Sarah-Jane is also a Changemaker supporting Working Families and is a member of the Regulation Matters campaign working towards the regulation of domestic care in the home. She has been involved with Government consultations on childminder agencies as well as speaking publicly at Government policy briefings on topics such as “Bridging the Gender Equality Gap - The Future Role of Women” and the “Back to Work for Women” programme. She has attended several HR summits in her role as director of Parental Choice, including speaking at the Institute of Director's “Women in Business” conference in 2014. Sarah-Jane also presents at law firms, banks and corporates on family friendly benefits, childcare options and businesses' family rights and obligations at work including flexible working, talent retention and shared parental leave reforms. Sarah-Jane Butler is available for interview or comment on any matters relating to childcare issues in the UK For further information, please contact: Ruthe or Amber @ Jori White Public Relations Ltd Email: or Tel: 020 7734 7001

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